NAAMEH, Lebanon: On the streets of what was previously a calm coastal town just south of Beirut, cars belonging to Lebanese security agencies are now conspicuouslycommon.
It was here in Naameh that a vehicle packed with 250 kilograms of explosives was discovered at the foot of an apartment building, shocking unsuspecting local residents.
People living in the Abu Hashmi project building in the Mraah neighborhood expressed their disbelief at the news Sunday.
They said divine intervention protected the women, children and old people and prevented another Ruwaiss, a reference to the district in Beirut’s southern suburbs where two dozen people were killed and hundreds wounded in a car bomb Friday.
The residential building is a mere kilometer away from the headquarters and tunnel network belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, the Palestinian group led by Ahmed Jibril.
“I love life and hate death,” said Omar Nabulsi, a teenager who lives in the apartment building. “I did not believe that under our building were these explosives.”
Children were out playing in the neighborhood with bicycles and toys Sunday even as army patrols intensified their presence in the vicinity.
Fadi Hashem, another resident, said security forces arrived at the building’s garage around noon Saturday during a reconnaissance mission, and that he heard them say: “This is the car.”
Residents in the building and those surrounding it were asked to evacuate.
Members of the Army’s engineering corps then arrived at the scene. Before sunset, army personnel were seen transferring the explosives from the car. Residents were told to return home in the evening.
“We refuse to let Naameh become a home for terrorists,” said Hashem. “If it is proven, we in Naameh are a miniature Lebanon with Christians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims – let every criminal pay.”
“What happened in Dahiyeh made our hearts weep and could have happened here,” he added.
Sources close to the investigation said that security agencies received information that a car laden with explosives arrived in Naameh Friday evening. The car’s trail was lost but it was believed to still be in the town after the questioning of local pedestrians who saw the vehicle.
The sources said the car was packed with both explosives and detonators with the intention of setting it up as a car bomb, possibly along with another car, to target either Beirut’s southern suburbs or south Lebanon, both Hezbollah strongholds.
The vehicle, an Audi, had five containers each carrying 50 kg of TNT as well a device to remotely detonate the ordnance, the sources said.
Authorities arrested four suspects including Ahmad al-Saeed, a 50-year-old Palestinian man who was described as the leader of a car bombing network.
Saeed is married and runs a shop selling honey and “Islamic” accessories like incense and Arabic perfume.
“My son memorized the Quran and does not harm anyone,” Jamal Ahmed, Saeed’s mother, told The Daily Star from their apartment on the ground floor of a building in Mraah.
Ahmad, who is in her 70s, said security forces arrived at their house at night Saturday. Her son was present and the officers introduced themselves and told them not to be afraid before arresting Saeed for questioning.
Ahmad said whoever carried out killings and explosions deserved to be punished and even killed, no matter who they were, but maintained her son only left home to go to work.
“I am certain that he will be back and that he is innocent,” she said.
Naameh residents refused to point fingers. Mustafa Mezher, a local resident, said everyone should know that any criminal would receive his just punishment. He said only 10 percent of the residents were among the town’s original inhabitants.
One of the residents who moved in recently is George Mattar, who arrived there after being displaced during the 2006 War with Israel.
“We live here in peace with each other and refuse for our town to be used as a den of terrorism or for killing others,” Mattar said.
“Yesterday it was [the southern suburbs] and without divine intervention and the wisdom of the security agencies, blood could have been spilled here or in another Lebanese area.”