BEIRUT — A car bomb explosion Saturday killed five people and injured 42 near an office of President Amin Gemayel's Falangist Party in Christian East Beirut, police said, and four French television crewmen were kidnaped by gunmen in Muslim West Beirut.
The car bomb exploded at 1:15 p.m. in a street crowded with shoppers in the Ashrafiyeh district, police said. It damaged the Falangist office, on the first floor of a six-story building, and set 35 cars and a gas station afire.
Chief Warrant Officer Youssef Bitar, a top police explosives expert, estimated that the car was packed with 175 pounds of TNT. He said the explosives were wired to four 81-millimeter mortar shells that failed to detonate.
No group or individual immediately claimed responsibility for the blast.
It was the the eighth car bombing in East Beirut since Jan. 15, when Gemayel loyalists crushed rival Christian forces led by Elie Hobeika. Most of the bombings have been aimed at offices of the Falangists.
The journalists abducted by gunmen in West Beirut are employed by France's Antenne-2 television station. They were identified by other French reporters as Phillipe Rochot, Georges Hensen, Ourel Cornea and Jean-Louis Normandin.
The Lebanese driver of their car was held with them for about seven hours, then released and warned not to talk about the abductions, other French newsmen reported.
No group claimed responsibility for seizing the journalists, who had flown to Beirut after the terrorist group Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War) claimed last week to have killed researcher Michel Seurat, one of four Frenchmen it claims to have held captive for months. Seurat's body, however, has not turned up.
Earlier Saturday, a man called a Western news agency in Beirut and said Islamic Jihad would kill one of Seurat's fellow captives if two Iraqis whom France deported to Iraq are not sent back to France.
The Iraqis, Fawzi Hamzeh and Hassan Kheireldin, were accused by France of being activists in an Iranian-allied underground opposed to the Iraqi government, which is fighting a border war with Iran.
Islamic Jihad is a fundamentalist Shia Muslim group believed to be loyal to Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In addition to the French captives, Islamic Jihad reportedly holds six Americans.