BEIRUT: Ibrahim’s eyes watered and his voice faltered as he took in the husks of blackened cars that were in flames just hours earlier, gazing at the homes with broken facades and windows from which children peered down at the destruction.
“Is this what the Prophet Mohammad taught us?” he asked.
The Tayyouneh resident, who asked that his name be changed, had been watching the World Cup games at the nearby Abu Assaf cafe shortly before midnight, when a car bomb went off, shattering the calm of the neighborhood.
“They are not worth the Sayyed’s shoe,” he said, referring to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah.
“In 2006, we endured 31 days of war from the air, ground and sea,” he said. “Israel for 31 days could do nothing.”
“The southern suburbs will never bow,” he added.
Ibrahim recounted how Sunni neighbors rushed to the aid of Shiite residents in the area, saying those who perpetrated this “criminal act” were indiscriminate murderers.
“We are all brothers and families here, we are all Muslims, we all say there is no god but God,” he said.
“These [suicide bombers] do not care about your sect,” he said. “They just want to destroy the country.”
A suicide bomber detonated a vehicle rigged with 25 kg of explosives Monday night, ending months of calm that had prevailed in Beirut in the aftermath of a series of car bombings linked to the crisis in Syria and that targeted areas associated with Hezbollah.
The Tayyouneh neighborhood at the entrance to the southern suburbs was crisscrossed with yellow tape following the attack, amid a surge of Army officers protecting the fragile calm that had taken hold by morning. Forensic investigators in white lab coats photographed the scenes and placed yellow number-plates on each damaged car, a gruesome exhibit.
By midmorning, officers were still finding fragments of flesh and blood at a nearby parking lot, the remains of what they said was the General Security officer killed in the bombing, who was ripped apart by its force and smashed into a nearby building. One resident said she heard his body connect with the wall outside.
Residents spoke admiringly of the officer, saying he had gone to confront the suicide bomber driving the car against the flow of traffic and directed him to leave the area, before the bomb was detonated.
Abu Assaf cafe had reopened, and locals streamed in for a morning coffee fix, inquiring about the health of employees there. Others sat in stunned silence at the shop, just two dozen meters away from the site of the blast that shattered the night.
Most of the wounded had been watching the Brazil vs. Cameroon match at the cafe, but were saved by the empty space next to where the blast occurred facing away from the apartment buildings – an open roundabout and the wide expanse of Horsh Beirut – dissipating the force of the explosion.
“Nobody remembers the moment,” said Hamza, who was working at Abu Assaf when the bomb exploded. “We were shocked. I swear, you could feel nothing. Everyone was on the floor, unaware.”
Most of the damage to the cafe was minor – broken glass and television screens.
“Allah protected us and had mercy on us,” said Abbas Assaf, one of the cafe’s owners.
Still, the gruesome aftermath stood baking in the morning sun – hollowed out cars and scraps of metal littering the area, the stench of burned rubber and ash still persistent hours after the explosion.
Nearby cars had their paint seared off, their windshields cracked, windows caved in. Some were adorned with purple flowers and leaves blown off uprooted trees nearby, an inviting site from afar scarred up close.
The car bomb itself had been reduced to small chunks of scrap metal, a jumbled heap that made little sense and a reflection of the confusion of local residents who were still at a loss as to why their homes, far from political offices, were targeted in the midst of World Cup fervor.
Children and families, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes, gazed down at the rubble from their apartment buildings, three of them damaged in the bombing, with windows blown out and awnings collapsed. Workers swept away the glass and debris.
Mortada Farhat, a resident of one of the buildings damaged by the bombing, struck a defiant note. He said he rushed to his balcony when he heard the explosion, only to see cars in flames and people who had been knocked down.
“At 2 a.m., I asked the people who came to clear the damage to leave because my children had an exam at school the next day,” he said. “We put the kids to sleep, and this morning they went to school.”
“Everything is normal, and it will remain normal no matter what they do,” he said, referring to the attack’s perpetrators.
A banner on one of the buildings declared: “I sacrifice my life to you, O’ Hussein,” a reference to the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, revered especially by Shiites. A nearby portrait commemorating Hadi Nasrallah, the son of Hezbollah’s secretary-general who died fighting the Israelis after the brutal Grapes of Wrath campaign, was sheared in half.
But another poster, partially obscured by trees, summed up Lebanon’s predicament best. The portrait was of a wounded and dying Hussein, the Prophet’s grandson, bleeding and pierced by arrows, extending his hand to a bloodied white steed. His tents burned in the background, in what appeared to be a commemoration of the infamous battle of Karbala.
The image was captioned: “Will anyone come to my aid?”