Monday, February 13, 2006

The Day Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was Assassinated

It was Monday February 14, 2005 and I had some things to do before leaving to Egypt the next day on a 10-day vacation. I left home at about 11 and went to Hamra street where I bought my favorite newspaper, Al-Hayat. Then headed to my barber Ali in Makdisi street since I was in desperate need for a haircut after seven weeks in Iraq. My friend Hamza, who I was supposed to use his flat in Cairo called me and said he will ask the man who takes care of the apartment make sure it is cleaned before I arrive on Tuesday.
Not finding Ali, I decided to go back home and give it another try in the afternoon. At 12:55 as I walked in Sidani Street near Bliss street I heard a massive explosion. I asked myself immediately whether what I heard was a blast or Israeli war planes have broke the sound barrier. I picked up my telephone and called my boss who was north of Beirut but confirmed he felt something.
Things started getting clear when I saw thick black smoke billowing from downtown Beirut. At first, I thought it was inside AUB and started running toward the smoke through bliss street in the direction of Ein Mrayseh. About 10 minutes later after hearing the blast I reached the scene where I saw about a dozen cars on fire and debris all over the place. A massive crater could be seen in front of Saint George Hotel. Dozens of people gathered to watch what was going on, many of them taking pictures with their cellular telephones.
I picked up the telephone and tried to call the office to dictate an urgent but was only able to get through after trying the number several times. Then I saw an ambulance. I went toward it, looked inside from behind the glass and saw a body covered with a sheet. Three policemen stood outside the ambulance and a member of the Civil Defense was inside near the body. The Civil Defense member then jumped outside the ambulance, clearly shaken, and told the policemen: "I am scared. I need someone to go with me." A police officer answered while looking at the two policemen: "Yes we better have one of you go in the ambulance." The policemen and the civil defense member went in before the ambulance left. Hours later I knew that the body in the ambulance was that of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
I frantically ran from one side to anther asking policemen who was the target. No one gave me an answer. No one said a word but I was sure they knew who.
Walking in the middle of the destruction I saw a Mercedes with three totally-burnt bodies inside it. I got through to the office after several attempts and dictated an urgent that at least four people were killed in the blast.
I don't know why when I was in the middle of fire and mangled cars I thought that the French ambassador was the target.
About half an hour after I arrived, I heard a police officer telling a colleague of his "it is the motorcade of the big man." The officer then burst into tears. I asked him "which big man," but he asked me to go away. At that point I said they must have targeted Prime Minister Hariri. I called my boss and told him that it seems Prime Minister Hariri "might have been the target."
"Ohhhhhh Nooooooooo," he answered with a sad voice.
Few minutes later I saw Robert Fisk of The Independent walking around the area. We walked toward each other and I told him it seems Prime Minister Hariri was the target. He thought the same. As the time passed more bodies were being taken away from the scene outside the Saint George Hotel.

Later I returned to the car where the three bodies were and took another close look. Then I saw a young man, who was identified as one of Prime Minister Hariri's guards, came walking toward the Mercedes. He looked inside and a second later burst into tears putting his hand on his forehead (look at the photograph). "It's Abu Tarek," he said when he looked at one of the bodies.
At this point it became clear that Prime Minister Hariri was targeted since Abu Tarek is the head of his security.
About an hour later more security forces arrived at the scene and pushed us away from the area. Several Cabinet ministers and members of parliament also arrived and one of them, Tourism Minister Farid Khazen, confirmed Prime Minister Hariri was assassinated.
At about 4 p.m. I headed to the office and stayed there working until about midnight.
From the window I could see that night that all the restaurants in downtown Beirut, where lovers were supposed to celebrate Valentines Day, were closed.
Feb. 14, 2005 ended as one of the darkest days for Lebanon in decades.

Bassem Mroue
Beirut February 13, 2006.
6:45 p.m.


At 3:06 PM, Anonymous Maya said...

What a moving report of your personal experience of Feb 14th 2005.

At 5:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am grateful that you do not blame Israel for this. Arabs blame Israel for so many things that it is a relief to read an article where the tragedy is not the fault of Israel.

At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A gripping story, Bassem. Well done. Jasper, Cairo

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