BEIRUT — Lebanon's top Shiite Muslim clergyman escaped an assassination attempt Saturday when a car packed with explosives struck a pile of sand and blew up just before reaching his home, police said.
Sheik Mohammed Mehdi Shamseddin was at home but was uninjured when the Renault sedan carrying 55 pounds of explosives blew up about 150 yards from his third-floor apartment, a police statement said.
Before the blast, a man jumped from the car and fled as the vehicle rolled into an alley toward Shamseddin's 10-story apartment building, the statement said.
The car drifted to the left, "hit a sand rampart roadblock and exploded," causing no casualties, the police statement said.
Shamseddin, 55, is vice chairman of the Higher Shiite Islamic Council, the supreme religious body that handles the day-to-day spiritual affairs of the 1.2 million Shiites who make up Lebanon's largest sect.
Shamseddin took over after the council's chairman, Imam Moussa Sadr, mysteriously disappeared during a visit to Libya in September, 1978.
Police said several parked cars and windows were damaged by the blast.
There was no claim of responsibility. Nine car bombs exploded in Lebanon in 1989, killing 80 people and wounding 342, by police count.
Muslim security sources said they believe the attack was part of a Shiite power struggle pitting the pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia against the Syrian-backed Amal.
Shamseddin, a moderate, supports Amal chieftain Nabih Berri, who also is minister of water and hydraulic resources in the government.
Berri is at odds with former Iranian Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, the hard-liner who founded Hezbollah, or Party of God, when he was ambassador in Damascus in the early 1980s.
Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani dismissed Mohtashemi as interior minister in August, but Mohtashemi later won election to Parliament.
The hard-line leader surfaced in Lebanon late last year and held talks with officials of Hezbollah, which is believed to be the umbrella group for Shiite factions holding most of the 18 Western hostages in Lebanon.