BEIRUT: A Lebanese firefighter who was one of the first on the scene of the bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri testified before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Monday, describing “volcanoes of fire” that greeted rescue workers as they arrived and efforts to subdue the flames that lashed at Downtown Beirut that day.
Khaled Tubaily’s testimony also described scenes of devastation as far away as 4 kilometers from the site of the attack, which is likely to bolster the prosecution’s claim that the bombing was an above-ground blast.
The enthusiastic veteran firefighter said he rushed to the site of the explosion from his Bachoura station with two fire trucks and an ambulance, guided by the rising columns of black smoke.
“When I got to Riad al-Solh, I couldn’t see a road,” he said. “Glass covered the whole [ground].”
The fact that the force of the explosion shattered windows at a large radius from the blast site has in the past been pointed to by investigators to assert that the explosion which killed Hariri and 21 others on Feb. 14, 2005, occurred above ground.
Defense lawyers said in opening statements last week that they believe the bombing was likely an underground explosion.
When he arrived at the scene, Tubaily said he immediately called for backup from all three fire brigades in Beirut, which included the Karantina and Tariq al-Jadideh fire brigades, after realizing the enormity of the devastation.
When he arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel, about 400 meters from the bombing, he said he was greeted with a scene of “black smoke filling the sky” and “volcanoes of fire.”
“It was very frightening,” he said.
Tubaily described in detail the firefighting effort, aided by an elaborate model of Downtown Beirut after the explosion. His officers fanned out around the large crater left by the explosion, and they set to work trying to put out the flames that engulfed Hariri’s convoy.
But the motorcade’s cars kept reigniting, the fuel tanks blowing up, he said, describing the effort as the most challenging of his career. Firefighters had to put out the fire while lying prone to shield themselves from the exploding fuel.
“I swear to God, I have seen thousands of [fires],” he said. “Until this moment, my mind has not forgotten this one.”
The STL is tasked with investigating the Valentine’s Day bombing that killed Lebanon’s former charismatic premier and ushered in an era of political assassinations and plunged the country into turmoil.
Five members of Hezbollah have been indicted by the Hague-based court in connection with the attack, and four of them are standing trial in absentia at the STL’s headquarters.
The court is expected to continue hearing testimony all week.