Lebanese cellular networks lock up whenever there is a bombing, as thousands of subscribers instantly take to their phones to contact friends and family either seeking or giving confirmation that no one was hurt. On Friday morning at approximately 10:00 a.m., network failure was the first indication for many Lebanese that yet another explosion had struck the country, as the Chevrolet roundabout in the eastern Beirut suburb of Hazmieh was rocked by a large car bomb.
The target was a vehicle belonging to Captain Wissam Eid, an officer of the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch. The explosion, audible throughout eastern Beirut, set cars on fire and threw bodies onto the nearby overpass. Eid, his bodyguard, and three others were killed in the blast.
Eid was a top detective and forensic engineer in the ISF. Speaking to NOW Lebanon, a very high-ranking ISF officer revealed that, “Eid was directly in charge of all the dossiers pertaining to a number of assassinations, including Rafik Hariri and George Hawi.”
The officer added, “[Eid] was the coordinator between the Information Branch and the International Investigation Committee, and he was recently assigned to work on a very sensitive file with this committee.”
Security sources and politicians quickly branded the attack a message to the ISF and a strike at the international tribunal. Future MP Mustafa Allouch was quoted on Voice of Lebanon radio, saying, “The first message of the attack is directed at Captain Eid himself about the international tribunal and his major role in uncovering several terrorist plots against Lebanon.”
ISF Public Relations Director Lt. Col. Baradei said, “This bomb is a direct message to Rifi and [Information Branch head] Wissam al-Hassan, because Eid was Hassan's office director and his eyes and hands on the ground.”
The Information Branch of the ISF was formed in 2005 under then-acting Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat. Opposition figures have accused the branch of having been created to serve the interests of Future Movement leader Saad Hariri and his allies. Over the past two years, the branch has been greatly expanded in order to combat a growing tide of radical groups such as Fatah al-Islam, and the string of bombings and assassinations that has now touched the branch itself.
Breaking tradition, Syria was one of the first countries to issue a public denouncement of the attack. Most international reactions had yet to trickle in by mid-afternoon on Friday, though Egypt, the US and Russia also issued condemnations. Residents of the North Lebanon town of Deir Ammar, Eid’s hometown, made their outrage at the bombing clear as well, by demonstrating, burning tires and blocking the road from Tripoli to the Syrian border.
A trail of tears
There have been thirteen bombings and one shooting targeting major figures, primarily politicians and journalists, in Lebanon since Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh narrowly survived an attempt on his life in October of 2004. Ten of the bombings have used explosives-laden cars detonated by remote control, as in the attacks on Hariri; Christian MPs Gibran Tueni, Walid Eido and Antoine Ghanem; and Army Director of Operations François al-Hajj. The attacks targeting journalists and intellectuals such as An-Nahar columnist Samir Kassir and LBC reporter May Chidiac were smaller, highly-precise bombs placed in their own vehicles.
Foreign interests have also been targeted in the past few years, with several attacks on UNIFIL forces using roadside bombs. The latest such attack was against a US Embassy vehicle, and it killed three civilians and wounded two Lebanese employees at the embassy. That attack was the first directed against Americans since the end of the civil war. Numerous bombings have also plagued civilian areas, mostly in Christian neighborhoods.
Friday’s bombing is the second assassination targeting Lebanese security institutions, following Brigadier General François al-Hajj’s assassination on December 12. Hajj had been tapped as the next head of the army, to replace General Michel Sleiman once he was elected president.
This latest attack is the first assassination of an ISF official, though it is not the first attempt. Eid survived previous failed assassination attempts, most notably on February 11, 2006, when he was greeted at his front door by a grenade. Though he suffered serious injuries to his hands, he survived. Additionally, on September 5, 2006, ISF Information Branch officer Lt. Col. Samir Shehadeh’s convoy was hit by a remote-controlled bomb in the South Lebanon town of Rmeileh. Both Eid and Shehadeh were deeply involved in the investigation of the Hariri assassination, as well as the arrest of four generals accused of involvement in that attack.
An important figure in the investigations surrounding the string of assassinations, Eid has now become one more piece of the puzzle he himself was trying to solve. His murder is a blow to Lebanon’s stability and increasingly-fragile collective psyche. Importantly, it is also a serious attack on the international tribunal and the search for the masterminds behind the assassinations plaguing Lebanon these past few years. If there is any message to be taken from this deadly blast, it is that now more than ever the Lebanese people must unmask their assailants and bring them to justice.
Hanin Ghaddar contributed reporting to this story.