Lebanon News

A lost brother, debilitating PTSD: STL victims testify

BEIRUT: Robert Aoun felt the reverberations of the 2-ton bomb from his office in Jounieh, 20 kilometers north of Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005. Turning on the TV to see what had happened, he saw a massive explosion had hit Downtown Beirut in front of the St. Georges Hotel, directly across from the building where his brother Joseph worked.

Like countless others attempting to locate their loved ones following the attack that targeted former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, killing him and 21 others, Robert tried to reach his brother but received no response.

In his testimony before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, where victims of the bombing are testifying before the chamber for the first time, Aoun recalled an officer told him that no more bodies had been found at the scene when he tried to enter the cordoned-off bomb site.

With many of his siblings abroad and his brother’s wife four months pregnant, Robert carried on the search for his brother in local hospitals alone.

In the passing hours, he witnessed the wounds of the living as well as the bodies of the deceased – though none belonged to his brother. Almost 11 hours after the attack, Robert received a phone call informing him three unidentified bodies had been found.

“I was at the Hotel Dieu Hospital when I received the call saying that there were three bodies at the Makassed Hospital that needed to be identified,” Robert said.

Robert immediately recognized his brother among the dead at the hospital by the half of his face that was uninjured and a distinctive scar on his leg.

“I called my other brother ... and I told him what I had found. I told him, ‘Try to figure out how to inform the family and Joseph’s wife.’ I told him that we should bring a doctor with us before telling her,” he said, as they were concerned the shock of the news might affect her pregnancy.

The death of Joseph Aoun would heavily impact his whole family, particularly Joseph’s son, born less than half a year after the attack.

Following Robert’s testimony, a protected witness appeared before the trial chamber attesting to his own struggle with debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder following the bombing.

While his identity was withheld due to the nature of the evidence he was providing, his testimony revealed him to be a 65-year-old resident of east Lebanon’s Baalbeck.

On the morning of the attack, the victim had traveled from the Bekaa Valley to Beirut for some business at the HSBC bank just meters away from the blast.

The witness was inside the bank when the bomb went off.

He sustained injuries that led to severe neurological and mental disorders, affecting his sleep and ability to be in busy places.

“I’m always in a state of fear,” he said. Despite taking medicine for his condition, his symptoms worsened and impacted his physical health, completely changing his lifestyle from what it was prior to Feb. 14.

“I’m a bit ashamed, but after four or five months of certain conditions at home, my wife was prompted to convince me to seek [additional] help,” he said.

At the end of the second live testimony of the day, Nada Abdelsater-Abusamra, co-legal representative, asserted the importance of the victim’s case, making reference to a previous witness’ remark that the HSBC had been rebuilt three days after the attack.

“It’s true we can reconstruct a building in three days, but we need international support to reconstruct the lives of the victims harmed during [this terrorist attack],” Abdelsater-Abusamra added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 31, 2017, on page 3.

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