BAALBECK — At 4:15 p.m. on Friday June 2, the sound of heavy gunfire fills the Baalbeck international highway in the Bekaa. The Lebanese army is pursuing a suspect involved in the May 28 Beirut kidnapping of Saudi national Mashari al-Mutairi, who was released by army intelligence two days later. Shots were exchanged between the kidnapper, who was eventually arrested, and army troops. In the process, an innocent civilian is severely wounded. The wounded man's relatives refuted the army's claim that the shooting was accidental.
That day, Karam Bou Chaaya, aged 27, was on his way to Beirut after attending the funeral of a friend in Deir el-Ahmar, some twenty kilometers from Baalbeck. Bou Chaaya, who was with three friends, wanted to bring back some meat cakes (lahem bi aajin) from the Bekaa. "We were three minutes away from the Lakkis bakery when we heard heavy gunfire," recounted his friend Rhéa to L'Orient-Le Jour. The young group watched as masked soldiers, dressed in black and white vests, arrested someone about thirty meters from their vehicle. "Shots were fired! Put the car in reverse!" the young woman remembered calling out to Bou Chaaya, who was driving. He tried to pull his black Range Rover away to flee but it was too late. The soldiers fire a hail of bullets at the car. While Joe, Rhéa and Nour ducked under their seats in time and dodged the shots, Karam was hit by a bullet to the spinal cord.
After "five minutes," the shooting stopped, Rhéa said. The soldiers withdrew and a chilling calm set in. Joe and Nour got out of the vehicle and fled. The car's bodywork was completely damaged, the windows shattered. Rhéa refused to leave the scene without her partner. Shot in the neck, he is unconscious. His head was lying in a pool of blood. "I begged him not to abandon me, but he wouldn't respond. It was the worst moment of my life. The minutes lasted an eternity," recounted Rhéa, in a choked voice.
'We won't remain silent'
Moments later, a soldier arrived but refused to help the young woman. Two more soldiers arrived soon after. In the end, they transferred Karam Bou Chaaya to the nearby Dar el-Amal hospital. Rhéa was taken by ambulance. "Some soldiers followed us to the hospital and asked me if we were from the Jaafar family [to which the presumed kidnapper of the Saudi national, arrested by the army, belongs]," recalled Rhéa. The young woman explained that they were not and told them her version of the events. "The incident probably happened by mistake," she recalled hearing the army men whisper, "they seemed uncomfortable and wanted to help, as if to make amends."
Contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour, a source within the Lebanese army declined to comment on the incident and merely reiterated the version of events relayed by the military. In a statement issued Friday, the army said that "an exchange of fire took place between the army and members of the gang, wounding a citizen who was passing by."
That same evening, Karam Bou Chaaya was taken to the Hôtel-Dieu de France hospital. After suffering two cardiac arrests during the journey, the doctors placed him in an induced coma. They were unable to remove the bullet stuck in his spinal cord, according to Rhéa.
"My son's life is in danger. Even the doctors don't know if he'll wake up or not," sobbed Karam's father, Ibrahim Bou Chaaya.
"The army should have aimed at the car's tires. If anything happens to Karam, we won't stay silent," added Rhéa.
BAALBECK — At 4:15 p.m. on Friday June 2, the sound of heavy gunfire fills the Baalbeck international highway in the Bekaa. The Lebanese army is pursuing a suspect involved in the May 28 Beirut kidnapping of Saudi national Mashari al-Mutairi, who was released by army intelligence two days later. Shots were exchanged between the kidnapper, who was eventually arrested, and army troops. In...