TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Al-Salam Mosque in the northern city of Tripoli reopened Friday, the second target of last summer’s twin car bombing attack, as Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi vowed to hold the perpetrators accountable.
“We will punish the criminals and bring them to justice,” Rifi, representing Prime Minister Tammam Salam and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, said at the ceremony before Friday prayers.
“We say to the criminals that regardless of what you did, our mosques were renovated ... Some of the perpetrators are now behind bars thanks to the efforts of the [Internal Security Forces] Information Branch and the rest, whose names we have, will be pursued until the end at all costs,” the minister told reporters.
Rifi, who hails from Tripoli, described the bombings as “one of the largest terrorist attacks in the world, and in Lebanon in particular, because the bombs were detonated outside two mosques during Friday prayers, a holy day for Muslims.”
At least 42 people were killed and more than 400 wounded when twin car bombs hit Al-Salam Mosque and nearby Al-Taqwa Mosque on Aug. 23, 2013. Both mosques were damaged considerably in the explosions.
Al-Taqwa Mosque reopened its doors to crowds of worshippers last month, packed with some 1,300 individuals and another 1,000 praying on mats outside.
Rifi said the Cabinet had referred the bombing cases to the Higher Judicial Council.
“Every individual who contributes to inflicting harm to the city of Tripoli will pay the price no matter what,” he said.
“Our message to everyone is that whoever violates the city will pay the price, and today we come together irrespective of our political differences,” he added, calling for a development plan to be put in place to overcome class struggles and poverty in Tripoli.
Rifi also stressed that Tripoli was a city of coexistence free of racism and sectarianism.
“I want to thank Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai ... for dispatching three bishops to oversee the renovation of the two mosques so that we could present a picture of Muslim-Christian unity in the presence of the two mosques’ imams, and I am here to say: Yes, this is Tripoli,” he said.
North Lebanon Mufti Sheikh Malek Shaar, who led prayers in front of crowds of worshippers, cut the ribbon at the entrance to the mosque. A marble plaque with the names of those who participated in the rehabilitation was also unveiled.
“Congratulations to Tripoli and to everyone, and we will go ahead and take steps to respond to terrorism, which has harmed our city and struck us, but it will not undermine our resolve or our will or our existence,” Shaar said.
He also thanked the Information Branch for being able “to uncover the sinful hands which destroyed the two mosques.”
Judge Riad Abu Ghayda requested last month the death penalty for eight Lebanese nationals as well as two Syrians linked to the bombings. Some of the charged Lebanese are members of the pro-Syrian regime Arab Democratic Party which is based in Tripoli.
Touching on the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s recent advances in Iraq, Shaar said the events represented a conspiracy fabricated by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with foreign sectarian support, “and it [ISIS] is being sent to our countries in order to ignite Sunnis and cause national strife.”
He stressed Sunnis would be able to overcome such a “phenomenon.”
ISIS militants have seized former president Saddam Hussein’s hometown Tikrit, vowing to take the capital Baghdad. They also took the country’s second city Mosul, as security forces dropped their weapons and fled with 500,000 refugees.
For his part, Sheikh Bilal Baroudi, who leads prayers at Al-Salam Mosque, told The Daily Star that the cost of the renovations came to over $1 million and that work was still ongoing to rebuild the inside hall.
“Today and after nine months ... we are reborn and the [turbulent] period has ended, and we have started anew, we will never look back,” he said. “We have no vengeful feelings or hatred, we only seek justice.”