BEIRUT: Men poured the rust-colored sand into the graves, as Mohammad Shatah and Tarek Badr were laid to rest.
Eyes welled up with tears as the imam spoke to the two men, instructing them on how to respond when questioned by angels in the afterlife. Men and women gathered by the tombs, reciting Surat Yassin, a chapter from the Quran, the humming murmurs finally calming the crowd, which moments earlier was shoving to get a glimpse of the fallen, or touch their caskets.
The recitation ended with the concluding verse: “So exalted is He in whose hand is the realm of all things, and to Him you will be returned.”
The former finance minister’s two sons stood stunned at the head of their father’s burial ground, the hole unevenly blanketed in sand, the steel wires lacing the concrete twisted at the edges.
His bodyguard’s mother stood at the foot of her son’s grave, frail and shaking, weeping in silence. When the prayers were over, his fiancée crouched before the remains, clutching a book of the Prophet Mohammad’s hadiths, and wept.
Emotions ran high as the two men were buried next to the assassinated intelligence chief Wissam al-Hasan, in the same tent as former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his companions, killed nearly nine years ago in another car bomb.
Much of the scene was a reminder of past sacrifice. Giant images of Hariri stood behind the politicians receiving condolences. Mahmoud Eid, father of assassinated police Captain Wissam Eid, arrived at Mohammad al-Amin Mosque to pay his respects. MP Marwan Hamade, who survived a bombing that ushered in a wave of political assassination in the middle of the last decade, stood among the gathering, eyes hidden behind darkened shades.
May Chidiac, the TV personality who also survived her assassination attempt, limped down the steps to the hall where the mourners gathered under the mosque, where she was met with a scene of grief and disbelief.
“We do not hope for a return to the string of political assassinations,” said MP Serge Torsarkissian, speaking in front of the tent where Hariri was buried. “But this is primarily an assassination of free and moderate thought.”
“The country cannot remain like this, open to assassinations,” he said.
“No, no, no,” came a cry from the women’s section of the hall. “Someone tell me no,” said another family member as she was led to the room.
Inside, the slain former minister’s two sons, Rani and Omar, were greeted with weeping and embraces.
The military guarded the roads leading to Martyrs’ Square and the brown and blue edifice of Mohammad al-Amin Mosque. Buses carried mourners from as far away as Akkar in the north and braved the wind that swept the capital Sunday morning.
By the mosque was a sea of people dressed in dark colors, some carrying flags of Lebanon.
“Today we came from Akkar so we can attend the funeral of the martyr Mohammad Shatah,” said Lokman Moussa, who said he woke up at 6 a.m. to be here with 11 family members after a two hour drive. “He is a great branch in the tree of Lebanon and Rafik Hariri.”
“We believe in the nation and love it, and love men of moderation like the martyr Mohammad Shatah, and that is why we came here today,” he said.
Moussa said it was obvious who killed Shatah – the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon.
Chants of “there is no god but God” greeted the caskets as they arrived, the song “We are all for the nation” a moving backdrop to the coffins blanketed in green cloth. The loudspeaker proclaimed that Shatah had been granted the Order of the Cedars by President Michel Sleiman.
Inside, visitors signed a condolence book dedicated to the victims, as Quranic verses rang in the background.
The funeral prayers were followed by a eulogy from Tripoli Mufti Malek Shaar, who said voices of moderation would prevail in Lebanon and that a new government would be formed soon for the sake of the country’s interest.
But minutes later, some of those gathered outside chanted: “There is no god but God, and Nasrallah is the enemy of God.” They were referring to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah. Earlier in the day, it was “There is no god but God, and the martyr is the beloved of God.”
Chants of “God is great” grew in volume as the caskets made their way into the Hariri burial ground at 1 p.m., Attendees clapped as the dead were carried to their final resting place. Onlookers shoved and rushed to touch the casket and get one final look.
Politicians came to pay their respects, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora issuing a defiant challenge to illegitimate arms in Lebanon, an implicit reference to Hezbollah, in a speech outside the chamber where the victims were buried.
He was greeted by the chant: “Hezbollah is terrorist.”
Former police director Ashraf Rifi prayed at the graves, then stopped before the flag-draped tomb of his intelligence chief Wissam al-Hasan, assassinated just over a year ago. Supporters cried out behind him.
“God is with you, general.”