So far, 8 people have been killed and 72 wounded by a carbomb which ripped through Beirut around 3 pm today. People are nervous, as it initially was unclear what the bomb, placed in the heart of Achrafieh, a Christian area, and near the headquarters of the Kataeb party, was targeting. Now it has materialised that Wissam al-Hassan, a general heading up the intelligence division of the Internal Security Forces was the target. al-Hassan had recently been leading investigations into several March 8 and pro-Syria figures, most prominently Michel Samaha, a former minister arrested over the summer due to a bombplot of his own. Under direct orders from Assad, bombs planted in North Lebanon were supposed to bring chaos. Just last week, al-Hassan told Lebanese leaders the case was his top priority. He returned to Lebanon last night, and was killed in the blast around 3 pm today. March 8 politicians and Hezbollah had let Samaha go quietly, hardly anybody defended him. Now, it seems, they have spoken with actions rather than words.
Below is an overview of what I found when I got the bombscene, about 5-10 minutes after the explosion.
As I was wondering down from Sassine square, just having had a juice, I was stunned by a blast. Beirut has a lot of blasts, mostly fireworks, but this one was significantly louder. Suddenly, everybody on the street was on the phone. “It’s Sassine, it’s Sassine,” said a man. As I turned towards that direction, I saw dark smoke rising, an ominous sign.
As I walked back up to the square, people were still moving normally. People were asking each other what was going on, but people seemed calm. Black fumes still rose, and the smell of burning rubber started to hit me. On the square it was chaos, as I walked towards the street where the blast took place, a mob of men started suddenly running.
A soldier was trying to keep people back, but failed. There was broken glass everywhere, cracking under your feet as I walked past ruined shopfronts; hardly any window had survived the blast, which was at least a block away. On a construction site looking out over the street of the blast, wounded construction workers were wailing. They were being seen to by the red cross, concealed from view by scaffolding. When you looked up, you could see a part of a car wedged into the scaffolding on the 3rd floor.
But my attention was grabbed by the metal carcass of a what at some point was a car. With time it became clear that this must have been one of the cars used to detonate the explosion. It was still leaking gas, as a young boy pointed out, but was no longer on fire; the firebrigade had seen to that. The metal was so mangled, with bits of the engine scattered around and part of it lodged in the building under construction, the sheer force must have been amazing.
A woman covered in blood arrived from the scene, supported by several soldiers, the red staining her white dress. A dark girl with cute black girls, probably a domestic worker, wondered around her lip trembling as she looked out in despair. “I just went to the bank” she whimpered, clearly confused.
“It was definitely a car bomb,” said the Jack Elias, owner of a hairdresser located just beside the scene. Charbel Younes, who owns the cornershop on the other side of the scene, too felt it was a car bomb, though neither had seen a car explode. I asked him whether any important people lived on the street. He said MP Nadim Gemayel and Ashraf Rifi, head of the Internal Security Forces, or perhaps the Kataeb headquarters.
Nadim Gemayel is the son of Bachir Gemayel, who was assisnated in 1982 and whose portrait is plastered on walls throughout the neighbourhood. Other residents denied general Rifi’s residence on the block. The Kataeb headquarters are located further down the main street, the bomb went off on a side street, but are only 100 m away.
Meanwhile, the rumour mill got up and running. Claude, who owns a bookstore within 100m of the scene, luckily had gone out to meet a friend. Although her shopfront was shattered, she was fine. “It is strange, that street went dead quiet from about 2 pm this afternoon” she said. “As to the goal of the attack, who knows?” she asked as she raised her eyes in desperation. A few hours later, we all do.
Lebanon’s last carbomb went off in 2008, but they bring back bitter memories of the years between 2004 and 2008, when many prominent politicians were picked off in similar assasinations.
For more pictures check: http://www.demotix.com/news/1532692/bombing-beirut-kills-least-8/all-media