BEIRUT: Reports of a large explosion emerged on Twitter at 2:49 p.m. Friday afternoon, with people hearing it from Mar Mikhael to Downtown Beirut, before the news of the deadly bomb blast had reached mainstream media.
But the initial picture was hazy with little more than images of a huge smoke cloud billowing from the direction of Sassine.As soon as it became clear a car bomb was behind the huge explosion, and before confirmation later in the evening that Information Branch chief Wissam al-Hasan was the target, speculation soon abounded as to the motive of the attack, which killed at least four others and left at least 110 wounded.
Several politicians initially took to Twitter expressing hope that everyone was okay and as phone networks were down across the city, Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui tweeted that mobile transmissions stations were being moved to the bomb site to “facilitate rescue efforts.”
However, many on Twitter soon condemned the way in which some politicians appeared to be using the attack to extend certain agendas, urging restraint and a need for calm reflection in the wake of a tragedy. “The last thing I want to hear right now is what some Lebanese politician thinks about this,” Iyad El-Baghdadi tweeted.
Many soon realized the capacity to use social media for positive, tangible good, and, with the dozens of wounded citizens pouring in to the hospitals around Ashrafieh, a call for blood donations was soon spread through Twitter and Facebook.
Donner Sang Compter, a local NGO which promotes blood donation, tweeted which hospitals needed which blood types, and, later, which had received sufficient donations.
With details of the tragedy soon becoming apparent, Beirut was soon trending worldwide on Twitter, but pop star Haifa Wehbe lamented this sudden notoriety.
“Sad to see #Beirut trending worldwide for a heartbreaking disaster and not a positive event. This has got to change and fast!” she wrote on the social networking site.
The car bomb – the first in Beirut since 2008 – and the concurrent calls for blood donations, the downed networks, power outages and the traffic chaos, triggered memories of the Civil War for many Lebanese.
Photo journalist for Agence France Presse, Patrick Baz, tweeted that “#Beirut bad feeling bad memories like an atmosphere of the mid 80s #Lebanon” and media commentator Habib Battah tweeted, “Cell networks down in Beirut. Everyone walking around looking at their phone, TVs in shops playing images of bombed buildings. Deja Vu.”
Many stressed the need for a united national front against this apparent attempt at destabilization.
“Today’s atrocity in #Beirut is an attempt to further polarize the people of #Lebanon. Let us not fall victim to it,” tweeted @Soraya_HD and @BeirutiBrit, a British woman who used to live in Lebanon, wrote, “That trip to #Beirut nxt yr I said I couldn’t afford? You’d better believe I’ll be there with bells and whistles on. Never loved you more.”