Tensions were high Friday night around Lebanon, hours after a top Lebanese intelligence official known for his anti-Syrian stance and at least two others were killed in a massive explosion in normally peaceful neighborhood of Beirut.
Gunfire erupted in the capital and enraged citizens blocked roads after the blast, which left Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan dead and heightened fears that Syria's civil war could boil over into neighboring Lebanon. In Sidon, people shouted, blocked city streets and burned tires in protest, according to CNN iReporter Ernesto Altamirano.
The friction turned to violence in other spots, including clashes in the seaside Lebanese city of Tripoli between supporters and foes of Syria's government.
Saad Hariri, a Lebanese opposition leader and former prime minister, told CNN that he had no doubt who was responsible for the bloody car bombing: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He accused the Syrian leader of "killing his own people" and said "he will not think twice" about killing Lebanese in order to protect himself.
"The message from Damascus today is anywhere you are, if you are against the regime from Lebanon, we will come and get you," said Hariri, who blames the 2005 assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, on Syria's government. "No matter what you try to do, we will keep on assassinating the Lebanese."
The blast took place during Friday afternoon rush hour in East Beirut's cosmopolitan Ashrafiyeh district, a predominantly Christian and populous area replete with shops, churches and office buildings. The neighborhood is considered among the safest in the city, said Aram Nerguizian, who teaches around the block from the attack site.
The huge blast shattered this peace -- spurring panicked and tearful residents to pour out of their apartments, with some carrying victims to nearby ambulances. The bomb's impact created a crater near Sassine Square, tore balconies off apartments, left rows of mangled cars and charred buildings, and shook the windows in CNN's offices, about a 10-minute drive from the scene.
At least one car was engulfed in flames, blackened wreckage littered the street, and windows were blown out.
The exact casualty count was unclear: Lebanon's National News Agency said eight people died and more than 90 were injured, but it later amended the figure to at least three deaths and 110 injuries.
Reports said al-Hassan was among the dead. And a Lebanese political source who did not want to be named told CNN it was 99% confirmed that al-Hassan had been killed. "There is an unrecognizable body found, and they have found his personal belongings at the scene," the source said.