Lebanon News

It was hell, Hariri bombing victim tells STL

BEIRUT: Liliane Khallouf and Maria al-Kasti were sitting side by side in the HSBC bank office in Downtown Beirut when the blast of the 2005 bombing, just meters away, tore through their workplace. “Everything was black,” Khallouf testified before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague. “There was a lot of dust around me and it was dark. It was hell.”

Khallouf, a mother of two, was the first of the two HSBC employees to testify Tuesday. She is one of six victims of the Feb. 14 bomb attack who will testify throughout the week. The explosion in Downtown Beirut killed 22 people, including former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and wounded over 200 others.

“When I regained consciousness, there was a lot of blood and screaming,” she continued. “We all ran out down the staircase. Everyone was screaming, ‘Get out of there, there might be another explosion.’”

The two-ton bomb shattered glass over the victim, as the blast threw her face first into the desk in front of her. Khallouf underwent several surgeries to reconstruct her nose and parts of her face that sustained serious injuries.

Peter Haynes, lead legal representative of the victims, questioned Khallouf on what she remembered from the hours immediately following the attack.

Khallouf said one of her most vivid memories was of her colleague. “I cannot forget that image. Maria ... was almost unconscious. She wasn’t speaking, but her eyes [were] open. I was calling her but she wasn’t reacting. They forced us to get out, so I left and someone else took care of her.”

Kasti, testifying immediately after Khallouf, talked about the memory loss she experienced after the bombing and the subsequent events, as described to her by colleagues and family.

“I don’t remember anything. At the moment of the blasts, I lost consciousness. The only thing I remember was when I [woke up], I was at the hospital,” she said.

“One of my colleagues told me that the whole window frame fell on my head and I was spitting blood. He told me that I refused to move when he asked to carry me [out] and was asking for my husband. I don’t recall any of this,” Kasti added.

The victim, also a mother of two, returned home after extensive operations, later realizing that she had lost her sense of taste and smell.

While the damage went undetected at first, Kasti remarked upon how it quickly affected all facets of her daily life.

“There was an incident [where] I had burned food in the oven, but I didn’t smell it. I didn’t know until my husband came back and asked me what happened,” she said.

Mohammad Mattar, co-legal representative, continued to show Kasti photographs of the ruined office, asking her to identify the areas impacted. Pointing to a bouquet of flowers lying among shards of glass in one image, the victim said her husband had sent her the floral arrangement for Valentine’s Day.

“We’ve stopped celebrating Valentine’s Day, it has become a sad day for us, and the whole country of course,” she said.

While the case against the four indicted suspects has centered on the assassination of Hariri, these first victim testimonies are intended to show the human side of the case, where much of the proceedings to date have focused on technical analysis.

Concluding Tuesday’s hearing, Peter Haynes, the victims’ lead legal representative, read the statements of four other victims who appeared in court but opted not to undergo direct examination.

The victims’ case resumes Wednesday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 30, 2017, on page 2.

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