BEIRUT: Abd Al-Hamid Mohammed Ghalayini left his home in Ras Beirut on Valentine’s Day 2005, heading towards Beirut’s Corniche he passed the St. Georges Hotel – a regular jogging route that on that day would put him in the path of the bomb that would end his life. Twelve years later, his eldest daughter, Lama Ghalayini, testified before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, recounting the harrowing days that followed the bombing as her family mourned and searched for her father's remains.
Ghalayini Monday was the first victim to recount the consequences of the attack at the STL victims’ case. She was also the first victim of terrorism that has presented a case in an international tribunal.
“Feb. 14 was the longest day of my life,” she said at the beginning of Monday’s hearing, “I didn’t know what to do, how to behave. I felt horrible because I wasn't in the country, so I decided to fly to Beirut the next day.”
Throughout the entirety of Monday’s hearing, Peter Haynes, Lead Legal Representative of the victims, guided Ghalayini through the experience, from the day she heard the bombs detonate during a phone call with her father, to the day when her father’s body was found.
The 39-year-old recounted an experience wrought with complications, as authorities allegedly halted the search for her father's remains.
Based in Dubai at the time of the attack, Ghalayini rushed to Beirut Feb. 15, 2005.
Describing the capital as a “ghost-town,” she remembered feelings of hope that perhaps her father was wandering the city suffering from memory loss as a result of the blasts, as he was not any of the city’s hospitals or among the dead.
A media frenzy surrounding the search ensued, as outlets reported erroneous information and authorities neglected the case, Ghalayini explained. Ghalayini testified that her uncle ultimately obtained two search dogs for the family to personally investigate the site.
Trial Chamber President Judge David Re interjected, questioning whether the victim found it abnormal that their family – untrained in forensic investigation – had taken it upon themselves to investigate the scene.
“Your honor,” Ghalayini replied, “it would be impossible to describe how we were feeling at the time. We were looking for any thread of hope. We were trying to cooperate with security forces, but they were not doing their jobs. They neglected [our] situation which is why we proposed to do it ourselves.”
After 12 days, the investigating magistrate Judge Michel Abu Arraj reached out to the family.
In devastating detail, Ghalayini described the conversation with the judge – who would resign from his position a few weeks later.
“You will not even find the [ashes] of your father, and you should thank the government because it has given you the opportunity to run [expensive] DNA tests ... stop saying that the government is not fulfilling its duties ... if you stop talking to the media ... maybe you would find some results [in the investigation],” the victim recalled Abu Arraj as saying.
“Human lives were considered so cheap by authorities,” she said of the conversation.
The meeting only emboldened the Ghalayini family and they led a sit-in next to the site of the attack attended by several MPs. The protests against the authorities’ conduct finally resulted in the approval of another investigation of the site, attended by the family.
“Throughout the 17 days you could smell a very bad [scent] at a part of the site. That day, the smell was very strong,” the victim said. “We stood at the spot and they started to [excavate]. They only removed a small layer of sand ... and on top of that layer they found a leg. Under the leg, was my father’s body.”
After more than two weeks of arguing with authorities, Ghalayini said it took a mere 10 minutes to find the body of her father.
“The [second] crime was [the time] we suffered. In any other country, there would be procedures to find and rescue the victims, but unfortunately that was completely absent in our case,” she said defiantly.