BEIRUT: Mohammad Kanaan, an intensive care unit doctor, is proud of how quickly Hussein Msheik is recovering from the suicide bomb attack that reduced his passenger van to a charred tangle of metal earlier this month.
Speaking to The Daily Star Tuesday, Kanaan says he is impressed that driver Msheik even survived the blast.
“I work in the intensive care unit and it is the first time that I have experienced such a case,” Kanaan adds as he stands in Msheik’s room at the Al-Rasoul al-Aazam hospital in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
On Feb. 3, a man wearing an explosive belt got into the van and sat right next to Msheik before blowing himself up shortly afterward in the town of Shoueifat, just south of Beirut.
Msheik was transferred to the Kamal Jumblatt hospital in Shoueifat shortly after the blast in serious condition, suffering from a lung contusion, liver damage and injuries all along the right side of his body. A day later, he was moved to the Al-Rasoul al-Aazam hospital.
After more than three weeks of treatment, 25-year-old Msheik’s condition has significantly improved and he is now expected to leave hospital in about a week.
Laying in his bed, Msheik smiles as he receives visitors, extending his heavily bruised right arm to shake their hands. He is able to recall what happened right up to a few minutes before the explosion, and attributes his safety to “divine intervention.”
The suicide bomber sat beside him after boarding at Khaldeh, south of Beirut, and then headed to Shoueifat, Msheik says.
“He looked confused and afraid. I asked him where he was from, and he said from Syria,” Msheik explains. “He said he wanted to go to the factory that refills butane bottles in Bir Hasan.”
Msheik asked the passenger, who kept his hand in his pocket, why his stomach was bloated.
“But he didn’t answer me. So I told him: ‘I will hand you over to a nearby Army post’ ... he then blew himself up immediately,” Msheik says. “I remained conscious ... I went up [into the air] and then fell slowly. When I opened my eyes I found myself on asphalt and saw blood on street ... a man put me in his car and drove me to the hospital.”
No one died in the blast apart from the suicide bomber. The only other person hurt was a woman who was slightly wounded.
Kanaan says his patient still needs to undergo a number of operations, predicting that he will need to spend another week at hospital so that doctors can replace lost skin tissue.
“He has lots of wounds in his body that caused loss of tissue. We are waiting for the infection to totally disappear ... and then we will transplant the tissue and let him go home,” Kanaan says. “But his life is no longer under threat.”
Msheik’s brother, fiancee and other relatives were gathered in his room, offering guests chocolate and baklava sweets.
Once he totally recovers, Msheik will get a new van and operate the Khaldeh-Shoueifat line again, he says adamantly. He also insists that he will go through with his plan to get married this summer. Batoul, who he got engaged to just 12 days before the attack, describes Msheik’s safety as a “miracle.”
The botched attack was claimed by the Nusra Front in Lebanon, an Al-Qaeda-linked offshoot of a radical Syrian rebel group that says it is targeting Hezbollah for fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces. It’s possible that the suicide bomber was planning to carry out his attack in Beirut’s southern suburbs, where Hezbollah enjoys wide support.
Hundreds have been killed and wounded in recent months by bomb attacks by hard-line Sunni groups, most involving suicide bombers, in areas associated with Hezbollah. Even outside Al-Rasoul al-Aazam hospital, the fear of more violence is evident, with metal and cement barriers set up and gun-toting Hezbollah personnel milling around.
Yet not everyone is pessimistic.
“God saved so many people because of Hussein’s courage,” says Deeb, Msheik’s proud father.