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Lebanon News

Hermel blast probe ongoing, forensic results pending

Family and friends hold coffins of victims killed in a car bomb attack on Saturday, during a funeral in the Shi'ite town of Hermel February 3, 2014. (REUTERS/Rami Bleibel)

HERMEL/BEIRUT: Investigations into the weekend Hermel bombing are ongoing and authorities are awaiting the results of the forensic report, judicial sources told The Daily Star Monday.

Experts are still studying the suicide bomber’s bodily remains found at the blast site, the sources said, adding that the assailant’s identity had yet to be determined.

Investigations indicated that the rigged Grand Cherokee had belonged to Abdullah Nassif, a resident of Shoueifat, who had reported it stolen on Feb. 11 of last year. Security sources confirmed that the car had arrived to Hermel from northern Bekaa.

According to the sources, the suicide bomber toured the town of Hermel before detonating his vehicle near the Aytam gas station Saturday evening, killing three civilians and wounding 23 others. CCTV cameras in the village of Labweh and the eastern entrance of Hermel had spotted the car. The cameras near the blast site have yet to be analyzed.

The bombing was the second to target the mostly pro-Hezbollah region in just over two weeks.

The suicide bomber’s features were unblemished, despite the force of the blast. He had fair skin, no facial hair and was approximately 20 years old.

According to witnesses, the suicide bomber allegedly aimed to detonate the bomb by the Batoul Hospital, but was hindered by concrete and iron barriers preventing cars from entering the outer courtyard, approximately 100 meters away from the hospital’s main entrance.

He then made his way to the nearby gas station, where he detonated the bomb.

The witnesses said the suicide bomber knew the area well, and had more than one target in mind in the event an attack on the hospital proved unfeasible.

Hussein Murtada, who was wounded in the explosion, corroborated the allegations to The Daily Star, adding that he witnessed the bomber quickly make his way toward the gas station after finding it difficult to enter Batoul Hospital.

The Hermel municipality and the Higher Relief Council have surveyed the damage ahead of a final report documenting the losses suffered in the attack, which are estimated to be in the millions of Lebanese pounds.

Most of the wounded have been discharged from hospital, with the exception of four members of the Murtada family.

The funeral processions of two of the victims, Issam Kheireddine and Ali Allaw, also took place in Hermel Monday with a large number of residents present, including MPs Marwan Fares and Nuar Saheli as well as Amal Movement representative in the Bekaa Valley Mustafa Fouani.

Nusra Front in Lebanon, an Al-Qaeda-linked group, claimed responsibility for the blast, saying it was in retaliation for Hezbollah’s military role in Syria fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces. The group has claimed three attacks in Lebanon.

The mukhtar of Fnaydeq in north Lebanon Monday denied media reports that a local from his town was the suicide bomber responsible for the deadly weekend attack in Hermel, saying that the suspected resident was in fact alive and well.

“Such reports are not true, the man is alive and he is here with us,” Fnaydeq Mukhtar Mohammad Khalaf told The Daily Star, referring to 29-year-old Amjad Fawzi Abdel-Karim, who was named in several media reports as being the suicide bomber behind the attack in Hermel.

Khalaf said he was contacted by security forces who asked him about Abdel-Karim.

“We received calls from various security agencies including the Army Intelligence and we assured them that the man is alive,” he added.

According to the local official, Abdel-Karim’s family denounced the media reports, describing them as attempts to tarnish the reputation of their son.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 04, 2014, on page 4.

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