BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Emotional testimony highlights blast’s impact on victims’ families

Defence counsel for Mustafa Badreddine in The Hague, Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. (The Daily Star/STL, HO)

THE HAGUE: The only part of Mazen al-Zahabi that was not charred in the explosion was his feet.

His brother Fuad still recognized him, even though the rest of his body was covered by doctors at Rizk Hospital, from the traces of a surgery he had after a car accident.

“I wish that nothing happens to another human being on this earth similar to what happened to my brother or my family,” said a tearful Fuad, who was testifying at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. “I want to say to the murderers, who ordered, planned and executed, if you are not punished on this earth, know that God the Just will punish you on Judgment Day.”

Witnesses resumed testifying before the STL’s trial chamber Friday, with one requesting protective measures due to the security situation in Lebanon and another recounting the horrifying ordeal of his brother who died 12 hours after the explosion that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, buried under the rubble at the St. Georges Hotel.

The STL is tasked with investigating the Valentine’s Day 2005 bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others and shattered Downtown Beirut. Five members of Hezbollah have been indicted by the court, four of whom are standing trial in absentia at the tribunal’s headquarters in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague.

Nazih Abu Rujeily, the fourth witness to testify before the court, recounted his brother’s death over videolink from a facility in Beirut.

His brother Zahi was working at the St. Georges Hotel, 100 meters from the explosion.

After finding out about the attack on TV, Nazih rushed with his sister-in-law to search for his brother, but did not find him among the wounded and charred bodies at the American University Hospital.

The family went to the crime scene at 8 p.m., and then to a nearby Starco police station to report Zahi missing, urging officers to search for him in the rubble.

But the officers refused, saying they had already surveyed the area and all the bodies had been removed.

The next morning, Zahi arrived again at the blast site only to be told his brother’s body had been found beneath the rubble and taken to AUB Medical Center.

There, he found the body, which appeared untouched by any flames.

There was only a single drop of fresh blood on him, said an emotional Nazih.

His brother had died 12 hours after the explosion, likely suffocating under the rubble.

“When we reported it and if somebody [listened to] us, perhaps he would not have died,” said Nazih.“Maybe he died suffocating, or screaming out, ‘save me.’”

“Imagine, your honors, 12 hours in which this man is suffering,” he told the trial chamber. “This death, the torture of his soul as it rose, we cannot forget that.”

A second witness testified before the court after requesting protective measures because of the tense security situation in Lebanon.

The witness, identified only as PRH 352, spoke briefly with his or her voice and image distorted. The court went into closed session to hear the testimony.

After a break in proceedings, the prosecution showed a video of Mazen al-Zahabi, Hariri’s paramedic at the time of the attack, emerging in flames from the ambulance that accompanied Hariri amid screams calling for help.

His brother, Fuad, who was brought in before the court, recounted their search for Mazen in more than a half hour of emotional testimony meant to highlight the impact of the attack on the families of the victims who perished in the bombing.

When Fuad heard the explosion, he said he first thought it was a “sonic boom.” After turning on the TV, they found out that the former prime minister’s convoy had been targeted.

He found out that his brother had gone to work that day, accompanying Hariri as usual.

Fuad rushed to the site of the blast, but was not allowed in by the Army, which had set up a security cordon around the site of the attack.

The family combed Beirut’s hospitals in search for his brother, until they heard a man by the name of Mazen Naameh was in Rizk Hospital.

Doctors there at first would not let him in while they tried in vain to treat his brother, but then caved after he insisted on seeing if it was him.

Inside, they had covered his body, which was badly burned in the explosion. Fuad recognized his brother from the scars on his feet.

Later that night, the family was told that Mazen had succumbed to his injuries.

“There is one person who is not at the table,” Fuad said, his lips quivering at the memory of Ramadan and Eid holidays without his brother.

“My mother, every night before she goes to bed, she remembers the last night before the incident, when Mazen returned home and before he slept he went to her and hugged and kissed her,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 25, 2014, on page 1.

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