A visit to the blast scene in Beirut


My colleague Ben Gilbert, Al-Monitor’s news editor, reports from the scene of Friday’s blast in Beirut, that reportedly killed Maj. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, head of intelligence of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, and seven others.

A car bomb tore through a predominantly Christian neighborhood of Beirut on Friday, killing at least eight people — including Wissam Hassan, a senior intelligence officer in Lebanon’s National Police Force — and wounding more than 70.

A visit to the scene shows that the explosion, which occurred at 2:50pm local time, tore at least one car in half and gutted many others. It ripped balconies from buildings, scattered glass and metal several blocks away from the blast site, and even tore leaves from trees.
Bloodied civilians could be seen being dragged from the area as ambulances attempted to evacuate the wounded to nearby hospitals. One small girl, carried away from the rubble, was bleeding heavily from deep gashes on her head and upper arms.

“It broke all the windows and shook the house,” Ghassan Baroudi, who was at home in the building next to the bomb when the blast struck, told Al-Monitor. “I saw a screaming woman get out of her car and a man running across the street carrying an infant. The child was okay, but the man was covered in blood.”

“We feared another explosion so we left and went around the back,” Baroudi, 28, added.
The bomb attack was the worst of its kind to hit Lebanon for more than four years, when a wave of political assassinations killed dozens of civilians and several officials between 2004 and 2007.

The explosion occurred just off Beirut’s Sassine Square, a major traffic junction in the capital’s eastern Ashrafieh district lined with several shops, cafes and restaurants.
Nour Kassab, a ninth-grade student living on the street where the bomb exploded, was visiting her cousin in a nearby restaurant when the blast hit.

“I came to my house and there was fire in the street,” she told Al-Monitor. “Cars were on fire and my neighbors were coming down from the buildings covered in blood. I was so scared I couldn’t move. ‘Oh my God,’ I thought. ‘The house is gone. There is nothing left.'”

Nour’s uncle, Toni Haddad, expressed the fear of many residents that the conflict in neighboring Syria was spreading to Lebanon. “The Shiites and Sunnis, the Russians and Americans and Qataris and Syrians, now they are bringing their war to Lebanon.”

The reported target of Friday’s blast, Lebanese police intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan, was a close ally of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and a foe of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Saad Hariri on Friday accused Assad of the killing.

At a watch repair shop around the corner from where the bomb went off, owner Jimmy, who didn’t want to give his last name, swept the glass shards of what was once the store’s glass façade into the sidewalk.

“I had forgotten what a bomb sounds like, said Jimmy, who showed Al-Monitor scars on his leg he said was from one of the bombs that exploded 100 feet away from this one in 1978. “It’s funny how you can forget it, and I did.”

Ben Gilbert, Al-Monitor’s news editor, tweets @benrgilbert

(Photo: Firefighters try to extinguish a fire as a car burns at the scene of an explosion in Ashafriyeh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban)