BEIRUT: Hussein Deeb Msheik, a key witness to the suicide bombing in the south Beirut town of Shoueifat, is in stable condition at a local hospital, his doctor said Tuesday.
Msheik “is out of the danger zone after successful surgeries to the liver, lungs and abdominal wall,” Surgeon Mohammad Idriss told The Daily Star.
He said Msheik, who also underwent surgery to repair tendon injuries of the hands and severe gashes to both his legs, was in stable condition and under constant monitoring at Kamal Jumblatt hospital in Shoueifat.
But Idriss said Msheik, a passenger van driver, was still not in a position to give his statement to police.
A suicide bomber, wearing an explosive belt weighing an estimated 5 kilograms, had just got into Msheik’s Hyundai van when the driver became suspicious when he noticed his passenger had an unusually bloated stomach.
The bomber, apparently afraid of drawing any further suspicion, blew himself up moments later. The bomber’s head was severed in the evening attack and tiny pieces of his flesh stuck to nearby cars.
The 22-year-old Msheik, who recently got engaged, was severely wounded in the attack.
A local woman was also wounded in the blast. She suffered bruises and first-degree burns but was released from hospital a few hours later.
A taxi driver identified as Issa Ghosn, a stateless resident of Lebanon, remained in custody after he told interrogators that he dropped the attacker off near the Richani gas station in Shoueifat
The taxi driver told police he picked up the suicide bomber from Khaldeh, south of Beirut, outside Chamsine Bakeries, a popular bakery in the area, a security source said.
The bomber asked to be taken to Shoueifat, Ghosn told investigators. The bomber also sought directions to a factory that refills butane bottles in Bir Hasan, a neighborhood in Beirut's southern suburbs, according to the driver’s account.
The driver spotted the AK-47 and directed the bomber to several buses that travel between Shoueifat and Bir Hasan.
Ghosn told investigators he feared for his life and wanted to get rid of the passenger as soon as possible.
Interrogation was ongoing with Ghosn because investigators believed the taxi driver “withheld information from authorities,” the source said. Ghosn should have notified authorities that a man holding an AK-47 was asking for directions to the factory in Bir Hasan, the source said.
The sources told The Daily Star investigators found broken pieces of the Soviet-made weapon at the crime scene. They also found a magazine belonging to the weapon.
The sources said police were analyzing video from security cameras installed at the gasoline station.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said interrogation with the taxi driver was ongoing.
“Nothing can be said before [police] complete 24 hours of interrogation,” Charbel told The Daily Star.
In response to a question, Charbel said he could not yet confirm whether the taxi driver was linked to the bomber.
“Let’s wait until the interrogation is over,” he added.
Shoueifat apparently was not the target. A Lebanese Red Cross official on site told The Daily Star that the suicide bomber was allegedly trying to coerce Msheik to take a certain route.
Msheik is known to commute between Shoueifat and the nearby Beirut southern suburbs, where Hezbollah enjoys wide support.
The Nusra Front took credit for the bombing, saying on Twitter that the attack targeted a passenger van at a checkpoint manned by Hezbollah in Shoueifat.
Nusra has claimed several previous car bombings and suicide attacks in Lebanon, protesting Hezbollah's military involvement in Syria alongside President Bashar Assad's forces in his war to crush rebels.