BEIRUT: A picture circulating on social media Tuesday of a minivan with a sign requesting, “Passengers, please unbutton jackets before boarding the bus,” might sound like an oddity.
But in the wake of Monday’s suicide bombing that took place on a bus, many drivers appear to be taking whatever precautions they can.“What happened yesterday is scary,” bus driver Haidar Hammoud said as he began his route Tuesday evening through Downtown toward Beirut’s southern suburbs, two areas hardest hit by bombings since unrest began in Syria around three years ago. He said from now on he was doing a sort of informal inspection of those boarding his bus, to the noticeable relief of some jittery passengers.
“Where are you going, Hajj? Your hands are in your pocket? It’s better that you don’t come with us.” Hammoud exclaimed, apparently having no qualms about turning down business if it meant keeping his vehicle safe. He then asked a man carrying a backpack to open his bag before taking his seat.
The latest bombing in Lebanon, the 12th in eight months, occurred in a minivan near the Beirut suburb of Shoueifat when the assailant detonated the device, killing himself and wounding two others. Although the incident didn’t cause the massive carnage that others have in the past several months – a bombing in the northern city of Tripoli killed 47 in August – the familiarity of public transportation that thousands of people take every day was enough to shake up passengers and drivers alike.
“Look at that bus,” Ibrahim Kheir said as he began his bus route Tuesday evening, pointing to another bus with only a couple of passengers. “It shouldn’t be that empty this time of day. This is rush hour. That bus would normally be full. Today we have about half the number of passengers as we usually do. They must be walking or taking cars because they feel uncomfortable riding the bus.”
Kheir is torn between whether or not he is more fearful of bad drivers or suicide bombers in Lebanon.
“Maybe bad drivers are worse because bombers tend to target specific individuals.”
He then pauses, recalling that he lost two relatives in one of the summer bombings in the southern suburbs. For now all he can do is try to take reasonable precautions – looking for unusually large bags or jackets on passengers – as he goes about his daily routine.
Mohammad Haidar, who has been driving the same route for the past six years, said he was not worried about security on his minivan, but he also acknowledged there was not much he could do given his limited resources.
“What can I do differently?” he asked, shrugging.
In a possible attempt to reassure himself and his passengers, he said, “If someone got on the bus and had a bulge in their jacket, it would be obvious, right?”
The driver of the bus near Shoueifat reportedly noticed something unusual as the suicide bomber boarded his vehicle Monday.
Assaad Fouwairi, another driver of a nearly empty vehicle Tuesday, said he wasn’t taking any extra precautions, still in disbelief that someone would detonate a bomb in a bus.
“This is public transportation. I drive everyone – women and children of all sects,” he said. “The suicide bomber wasn’t thinking of other people. He wasn’t thinking. If he were thinking, he wouldn’t have done it.”