Kristina Riegert
Last updated: 20 October, 2012

Beirut’s Black Friday – the blast, Al Jazeera and conspiracy theories

Professor Kristina Riegert is in Beirut to do research on Arab bloggers. But when the bomb went off she took to the notebook. Here are her thoughts and reflections from the time of the blast and the day after.

Beirut. October 19th. 1600
Sitting at a venerable café by the Sporting Beach Club, my colleague gets a text informing us not to drive through Ashrafiyeh, an upscale area in East Beirut because there has been a bomb explosion. Driving through Hamra the traffic is dense, we inch along, and as we do, the telephone starts ringing with worried family members. As I was close to AUB I decided to go up to a friend of mine who lives there, and she was also glued to Al Jazeera English. She said it must be related to Samaha – the former Information Minister and Syrian ally who was caught red-handed earlier this summer smuggling bombs into Lebanon through Syria, ostensibly to be used against Bashar el-Assad’s enemies in Lebanon. AJE is reporting that everyone is blaming Syria for the bomb blast, which killed 8 people and wounded over 80. AUB called on its students to donate blood to the hospitals. Within an hour however, the hospitals nearby the bomb blast begged people to not go there, as the blood demand was satisfied and well-meaning citizens were crowding the hospitals. So overwhelming was the response, that only people with Type 0 blood were still wanted.

Beirut 1830
Crowd sourcing from inside and outside Lebanon we got more information that  Wissam al-Hassan, director of the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces, who had only recently arrived in Beirut from abroad, had died in the attack. Immediately it was understood the gravity of this event. This was Saad Hariri’s (the former prime minister) right-hand security man. It was he who boldly arrested Michel Samaha several months ago, and who was instrumental in putting together the case against him for plotting against Lebanon. Clearly he was the main target of the bombing, not the civilians who were picking up their kids and going about their Friday activities on the Sassine Square. The rest of the evening was spent contacting and being contacted by people who wanted to make sure their loved ones were ok.

Beirut 2300
Press conferences by the various sectarian leaders in Lebanon and the finger pointing is in full swing. Many on my twitter feed wish the politicians would shut up and say that they are making it worse. March 14 accusing Syria of being behind the bomb. March 8 condemns the bombing and speculates that it could be extremists, and later blame Israel. As usual, here everyone seems to know “who dunnit” and everyone lays out the arguments, without a shred of proof. Hamra is empty. reports that bars that are usually crowded Friday night are empty. A day of mourning is called nationally and the day after is funeral.  

Beirut, the day after. 1400
Conspiracy theories are circulating that Wissam al-Hassan died somewhere up by the Turkish border, and they are passing this off as his assassination. There is no body. Protests with burning tires (a Lebanese speciality) take place around the country. Roads are blocked, specifically the Sidon road, the Damascus road and in the Bekaa valley. It is not clear whether the powers that be are blocking the roads or whether they are doing this in an effort to prevent clashes and more violence. The Hariri Palace in Koreteim has blocked off the streets in front and behind the complex, big black cars are parked in the street. Looks like a meeting is taking place there. The funeral is being called for tomorrow and Saad Hariri invited “everybody” to rally tomorrow at his funeral. It promises to be a repeat albeit on a smaller scale of the Hariri funeral in downtown Beirut.

Live pictures on MTV show candle vigils at the bomb site, and boys and men putting up tents in downtown Beirut near Martyr’s Square in an action reminiscent of the huge demonstrations in 2005/2006. It remains to be seen if the masses show up tomorrow.

Image by Alexander Lerche.