Lebanon News

Investigators piece through Bir Hasan rubble

Lebanese Army investigators, inspect the scene a day after two explosions have struck near the Iranian embassy, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT: Forensic experts wrapped up on-scene investigation Wednesday at the site of the suicide attack that rocked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut the day before, as residents began to clear rubble and families of victims held funerals.

The blast scene was still sealed Wednesday, with Army forensic experts, dressed in white clothes and wearing gloves, continuing their search for evidence. They lifted damaged vehicles that still lined the street in search of additional evidence. By evening, their mission was over. More than 20 cars were damaged in and around the site of the explosion.

At least 25 people were killed and more than 150 wounded when two suicide bombers attacked the Iranian Embassy in the Beirut neighborhood of Bir Hasan Tuesday. Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Lebanon-based, Al-Qaeda-linked group, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Inhabitants of the buildings at the blast site were busy removing debris and inspecting damage as politicians flocked to the nearby Iranian Embassy to offer condolences.

Hiam and her family spent Tuesday night at her parents’ house after their own home was badly damaged by the explosion.

“How could they go to heaven if not through committing such acts?” she said sarcastically, referring to the radical ideology of suicide bombers.

The floor of the living room was littered with glass shards and broken shutters. The furniture was badly damaged as well.

“It’s hell isn’t it?” said Marwan, her husband, who suffered wounds to his head and hand.

Marwan said they had been visited by a team of investigators, but he was unsure whether they were sent by Hezbollah or the Iranian Embassy.

“They came to assess damage,” he said, adding that they mentioned nothing about paying compensation.

Hiam’s neighbor Yasmine’s home was also damaged in the blast, along with three of the family’s cars.

“I wonder how we are going to commute now,” she said. “We are waiting for someone to come and drive us.”

Yasmine said she would pay to repair her house if the government did not offer compensations.

“If they offer to pay us, they are welcome, if not, what can we do?” she said matter-of-factly.

Security camera footage overlooking the street leading to the embassy was released Wednesday, but offered few answers.

The video footage shows what appear to be local residents looking toward the site of the first explosion when a second blast at the very edge of the camera’s view rocks the street, shaking the trees and sending a black cloud of smoke to follow the terrified people fleeing the scene.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Hezbollah supporters participated in the funeral of four Hezbollah fighters who served as guards for the embassy.

Al-Manar broadcast the funeral procession live: Able-bodied men in green fatigues cried as they carried the coffins of their brothers in arms, wrapped with the party’s flags, through the southern suburbs of Beirut.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that as of 4 p.m. Wednesday, 25 people had been killed by the explosion. It added that 23 out of the 25 bodies had been identified.

The statement added that 147 people were wounded, 60 of whom remain in hospital.

The ministry called on people whose relatives were still missing to head to the Rafik Hariri University Hospital for DNA tests.

It said limbs were present in several hospitals and efforts were being made to identify to whom they belonged.

A judicial source told The Daily Star the ongoing investigation indicated that Haitham Ayoub, an ISF lance corporal, opened fire at the first suicide bomber, which alerted the embassy guards.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that Military Police had collected the videos from CC cameras in the area.

He said that samples from the blast scene would be sent to laboratories outside Lebanon to identify and trace the materials used in the explosion.

The source clarified that no one had been arrested so far, adding that DNA tests need at least three days be processed. He said that the suicide bombers used a Chevrolet Trailblazer.

Officially, the investigation is being carried out by the Military Police and Army Intelligence. Interviews with residents appear to support speculation that Hezbollah and the Iranian government may be carrying out their own assessment.

According to Denise Abboud, a sworn forensic expert at the Justice Ministry, locating the area of the explosion and limiting access to it were essential in order to minimize the contamination of the scene.

“Whoever is outside should remain outside, and whoever is inside should stay inside because these are witnesses,” she said, adding that specific entrances to the area should be designated.

“It is also of extreme importance that forensic experts wear protective clothes and gloves while looking for evidence,” she said.

Abboud criticized the fact that residents, journalists and photographers were allowed to reach the explosion site in Bir Hasan, saying this contaminated the scene.

She said that forensic experts usually search for two types of evidence to determine the size and types of explosives: bulk samples such as pieces of the bomb and trace evidence.

“This is a very tiny amount of evidence found on the clothes of the dead or of people who survived the blast,” she said.

Abboud said that in general, forensic investigations in Lebanon were not up to field standards, saying: “They are not demonstrating the maximum professionalism.”

Abboud said it would be hard to determine the identity of the suicide bombers since the state lacked a DNA database, adding that genetic identification would be impossible without known relatives.

 
This article was amended on Thursday, November 21 2013

This article was corrected on November 21, 2013. The article article stated that Denise Abboud said the Army forensics investigation was not up to field standards. In fact, she was referring to forensic investigations in Lebanon in general. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 21, 2013, on page 3.

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