BEIRUT: After the discovery Wednesday morning of a car containing a massive cache of explosives, most of the shops were still open in the afternoon in the Beirut neighborhood of Al-Tariq al-Jadideh.
But customers were few, and local residents were left wondering what this latest development would mean for the area already often associated with street clashes and extremism – and for the stability of the country.
“If the bomb had exploded it would have been a catastrophe,” said Abdul-Rahman Mneimneh, owner of a clothing store two doors down from where the bomb was discovered. “Nothing is in our hands. No one knows what will happen. No one is thinking like a country. Everyone is just thinking about their own community.”
“This is happening because of the situation in Syria. As regular citizens, we can’t do anything. Only the leaders are benefitting,” he added.
Mneimneh specifically blamed Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah for sending fighters to Syria to quell the opposition and dismissed the idea that there were terrorists operating in his neighborhood, calling such accusations a distraction from the real problems – like the war in Syria and Lebanon’s stalled government formation.
On Wednesday morning, the Lebanese Army announced that it had arrested a leading Abdullah Azaam Brigades figure and had dismantled a car rigged with explosives. In the Afif al-Tibeh area near Corniche al-Mazraa, it arrested Palestinian Naim Abbas.
The Army said he confessed shortly after the interrogation began and then led the authorities to a parking lot, where they then dismantled rigged explosives from a car.
Local residents described a chaotic scene of hundreds of soldiers with dozens of vehicles and police dogs. The streets were closed off during an approximately two-hour search.
At a nearby satellite shop, Mahmoud Labban doesn’t even believe there was really a bomb, blaming the accusations on people “who want to make Sunnis look bad.”
“They’re just saying this about us so that people won’t come to Al-Tariq al-Jadideh. They want people to think that we’re bad, that we’re terrorists,” he said.
Standing on the corner watching the midafternoon traffic, he pointed to a car across the street. “Look! It’s a terrorist!” he said, laughing to himself, offering some dark humor on an otherwise humorless day in the area.
Imad Farraj, who runs a clothing shop with his brother around the corner, was despondent as he sat at the cash register of a nearly empty store.
“I was surprised at the news today,” he said, adding sarcastically, “I thought they’d caught them all.”
On a more serious note, he said he didn’t expect this to bring more security to Lebanon. He sees a lot more problems that need to be solved – like forming a new government.
At Al-Halabi, the nuts shop next door to the lot where the car was found, Imad Halabi said he wasn’t shaken by the recent discovery.
He then shrugged and acknowledged, “Every time a car goes by, I wonder if there’s a bomb.”