BEIRUT - Gunmen burst into the first-floor apartment of a pro-government Syrian journalist Wednesday, killing him in a hail of nearly 30 bullets in a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Lebanon.
The pre-dawn assassination is the latest in a series of brazen attacks that have shown the growing vulnerability of the Shiite militant group, which has found itself increasingly on the defensive at home over its decision to back President Bashar Assad in the civil war raging next door.
Violence linked to Syria's war is increasingly washing across Lebanon, threatening to unleash large-scale fighting in a deeply fragmented country that is being constantly tested with ever deepening polarization over the conflict in Syria.
In recent months, violence has become more recurrent and geographically widespread, extending to predominantly Shiite neighborhoods that had been relatively immune from attacks plaguing other, mostly border areas.
On Tuesday, a roadside bomb struck a Hezbollah convoy near the Syrian border, wounding two, and last week a car bombing in south Beirut wounded 53 people in the heart of the militant group's bastion of support. Rockets have recently hit the Hezbollah stronghold south of the Lebanese capital.
The attacks come as no surprise. Although there have been no credible responsibility claims, Syria-based extremist Sunni groups have interpreted Hezbollah's moves in Syria as a declaration of war against their sect and have threatened to retaliate inside Hezbollah-controlled areas in Lebanon.
"It is still the beginning of a probably tough road ahead" for Hezbollah, said Kamel Wazne, founder and director of the Center for American Strategic Studies in Beirut. Such attacks, however, will not change the group's ideology or direction, but "will actually strengthen their resolve to continue what they started," he said.
Mohammed Darrar Jammo, a 44-year-old journalist and political commentator, was one of Assad's and Hezbollah's most vociferous defenders. In frequent appearances on television talk shows, he would staunchly support the Syrian regime's strong-armed response to the uprising and in at least one case shouted down opposition figures, calling them "traitors."
His hard-line stance earned him enemies among Syria's opposition, and some in the anti-Assad camp referred to Jammo as "shabih," a term used for pro-government gunmen who have been blamed for some of the worst mass killings of the civil war.
On Wednesday, he was gunned down with automatic rifles shot at close range in his apartment in the coastal town of Sarafand, a stronghold of Hezbollah, where he lived with his Lebanese wife. The killers got away.
Hezbollah condemned the attack, saying it showed the "bankruptcy" of Sunni extremist groups fighting in Syria.
"It is still the beginning of a probably tough road ahead (for Hezbollah)."
founder and director of the Center for American Strategic Studies in Beirut