Beirut Gunman Kills 8 at Office
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BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ A disgruntled Education Ministry employee opened fire Wednesday at colleagues at a ministry office, killing eight people and wounding five before he was apprehended by police, police officials and witnesses said.
A financial dispute was behind the shooting, and police dismissed any sectarian motives, Beirut police chief Maj. Gen. Walid Koleilat said. But others, noting the gunman was Muslim and most of his victims Christian, questioned whether religious divisions contributed to the violence.
Police said the gunman, identified as Ahmed Mansour, began firing in the air and then turned his gun on people in the offices of the teachers’ compensation fund, a department of the Education Ministry. He was being held at a police station Wednesday afternoon.
Koleilat said the gunman, who had worked for the fund for 23 years, went methodically through offices, shooting. Some of the victims ran out onto a balcony to escape the gunfire, but the gunman shot through the windows, killing two, whose bodies rested on the edge of the railing.
Mansour’s family said he worked as a clerk and ``fixer,″ a term used for people who help cut through red tape at government ministries in return for a tip. He is married with four children.
As news of the shooting reached Mansour’s village of Loubieh in south Lebanon, relatives and friends gathered at the family house. His wife, Mona Khalil, cried out: ``This is a catastrophe. ... I can’t believe Ahmed would do something like this.″ She said Mansour is a diabetic who also took tranquilizers.
The building housing the fund is a few hundred yards from the main Education Ministry compound and across the street from the literature department of Lebanese University. About 200 police sealed the area.
About 20 relatives waiting outside wept as the bodies were being removed from the scene nearly three hours after the attack. They wailed whenever a body was carried out and tried to rush through the police cordon to remove the sheet to identify the victim.
Colleagues of the gunman who were in the building at the time of the shooting said the 43-year-old man arrived at midmorning armed with two pistols and a Kalashnikov assault rifle. He went to the third floor, where the teachers’ compensation fund has its offices and began shooting.
Among the dead was the woman who heads the fund, which deals with pay raises, bonuses, end of service payment as well as loans.
One witness, a government worker who refused to give his name, said after the gunman ran out of ammunition, he dropped his weapons, walked down the stairs and lit a cigarette. At about the same time, police arrived at the scene and arrested him.
Koleilat, the police chief, told reporters at the scene that the attacker tried to conceal himself by mixing in the crowd but later tried to run.
The police chief dismissed concerns that the attack may have been sectarian-motivated. ``It is tragic. It was personal and isolated. We hope that no one makes of this incident more than its isolated nature,″ he said.
But George Saade, the Christian head of the teachers’ union whose daughter-in-law was among the dead, was yelling outside the building: ``He killed the Christian employees. How can we live in this country?″
Education Minister Abdul-Rahim Murad, who rushed to the scene, said money was the reason behind the shooting. Murad said the gunman was angry that the compensation fund sought repayment of a loan of $12,000 he had taken earlier.
``They asked him to sell his car, he sold it, got upset and consequently came and committed his crime,″ Murad said.
Lebanon has known civil war, terrorism, an Israeli invasion and unrest linked to the presence of thousands of Palestinian refugees. But violence in the 1970s and 1980s was largely sectarian-related or politically motivated and rarely have financial disputes led to such carnage.