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Location: Birmingham, MI, United States

Councilman John Akouri, former Washington, DC Press Secretary & Capitol Hill Advisor, is President & CEO of the Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Memorial Services Across North America

A Look Back: September 14, 1982

Lebanese President Bachir Gemayel Assassinated At Kataeb Party Headquarters 25 Years Ago Today

RONALD REAGAN: Statement on the Assassination of President Bashir Gemayel of Lebanon in 1982

(THE WHITE HOUSE)...The news of the cowardly assassination of Bashir Gemayel, President-elect of Lebanon, is a shock to the American people and to civilized men and women everywhere. This promising young leader had brought the light of hope to Lebanon. We condemn the perpetrators of this heinous crime against Lebanon and against the cause of peace in the Middle East. Our deepest sympathy goes to Mrs. Bashir Gemayel and their son, the entire Gemayel family, to President Elias Sarkis, to his government, and to the people of Lebanon. We join with them in mourning.
The tragedy will be all the greater if men of good will in Lebanon and in countries friendly to Lebanon permit disorder to continue in this war-torn country. This must not happen. The United States Government stands by Lebanon with its full support in this hour of need.
Note: President-elect Gemayel was killed by a bomb explosion at his Beirut headquarters.

Lebanese President Cheikh Bachir Gemayel November 10, 1947 - September 14, 1982

REMEMBERING EL BACH IN DETROIT



A young Bachir arrives at Detroit City Airport in November of 1977.

THE 10,452 km MARTYR

"This new LEBANON must be created by CHRISTIANS and MUSLIMS alike; with love, trust, and unity."
--Bachir Gemayel
September, 1982

A Treasured Keepsake

~A signed message presented to 11-year-old John Akouri from Bashir~
FROM THE DETROIT FREE PRESS (2005): Farmington Hills Councilman John Akouri, 39, reminisces about meeting the former President of Lebanon which inspired him into politics in the 70's. John's brother Jim Akouri, 35, of West Bloomfield went to Lebanon last year and brought back two large cedar trees. KATHLEEN GALLIGAN/Detroit Free Press

TIMELINE 1982: President Gemayel Meets with US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger

“The beginning of the end will come if we are divided upon ourselves. We should overstep all petty considerations. The enemy’s only weapon consists in breaking our ranks and pitting us against each other. Let us rise above selfishness and partisan politics, and be one single united party, THE PARTY OF LEBANON.” - Bachir Gemayel

The Last Speech: Excerpts from the Convent

Bachir Gemayel, in a speech delivered on the morning of his assassination, days after his election to the Presidency in 1982, avowed: "We must today conquer all Lebanon, all its 10,452 square kilometres." The following are excerpts from that fateful speech at Deir Al Salib:
"In the name of all the Christians of the Middle East, and as Lebanese Christians, let us proclaim that if Lebanon is not to be a Christian national homeland, it will nonetheless remain a homeland for Christians. Above all a homeland for Christians, though one for others as well if they so choose a homeland to be protected and preserved, in which our churches may be rebuilt at the time and in the manner we desire.
Yasser Arafat has transformed the church of Damur into a garage. We forgive him, and though they defiled, sullied and pillaged the church of Damur, we will rebuild it. Had we been in Egypt or Syria, perhaps we would not even have had the right to rebuild a destroyed church.
Our desire is to remain in the Middle East so that our church bells may ring out our joys and sorrow whenever we wish! We want to continue to christen, to celebrate our rites and traditions, our faith and our creed whenever we wish! We want to be able to assume and testify to our Christianity in the Middle East! And whatever may be the difficulty in offering this testimony, we will never renounce it.
We will testify to our Christianity in Lebanon! We will testify to our Christianity in the Middle East!
So that Lebanon may truly be the Lebanon we desire, it must perforce remain the land of freedom, the homeland of civilization. Otherwise it will resemble Yemen or those countries wherein there remains not the slightest trace of our existence, nor the least reason for it.
As a Christian part of the Middle East, we want to be different from others and possess a land which, without being - let it be repeated - a Christian national homeland, shall be a country for Christians, where we may live in dignity, without being forced by anyone to deny our faith, as we were in the time of the Turks when we were ordered to walk on the left because we were Christians. We do not want to be forced to wear any sort of discriminatory badge on our body or on our clothes - so that one might know that we were Christians - and we do not want to be transformed into citizens existing in the "dhimmitude" of others!
Henceforth, we refuse to live in any "dhimmitude." We no longer wish to be under any protection. Our martyrs have defended us. Our martyrs have defended our cause. For eight years, our martyrs have defended our freedom and our presence in the Middle East, during which the whole world repudiated us, during which the whole world disinherited us, during which the whole world ignored us; and when we emerged victorious, all became our friends, all sought to befriend us.
In the future, it is our duty to deal with the whole world devoid of any sort of complex. No one can outwit us! No one can outrank us in bravery! And no one has defended his country more than we have defended ours! We want to live here in dignity! We no longer wish people to preach morality or philosophy to us, to give money or inform us of the proper manner in which to act. We alone knew what was expected of us, for had we not done what we did, we would not be here today and there would not have remained a single nun, priest, or cross!"

The Assassination of Bachir Gemayel

On September 14, 1982 while Bachir was speaking in his sister's convent, a twenty-six year old Lebanese man named Habib Tanous Chartouni was performing one last check on the massive bomb -450 pounds of TNT- that he had planted the night before in a room on the second floor, directly above the central meeting hall of the Phalange party headquarters in Achrafieh. The detonator was a highly sophisticated Japanese device designed to set off an explosion from a distance of several miles away. According to Lebanese intelligence sources, the device was supplied by or through Bulgaria, which often acted on behalf of the Soviets in such matters.

Chartouni, a Christian, encountered no difficulty entering the building. There was no reason why he should which, no doubt, was why he was chosen. Chartouni used to live in an apartment on the top floor of party headquarters, and some of his family still lived there. the family had ties to the Gemayels; his uncle was a bodyguard to Sheikh Pierre, and his sister was the girlfriend of one of Bachir's aides. The Phalange guards and party members were used to seeing him around. As added protection though, he carried in his pocket a safe-passage card signed by Elie Hobeika, chief of security for the Lebanese Forces.

After his speech, Bachir bid a warm farewell to his favorite sister, then left for the Phalange headquarters in Achrafieh. Despite the advice of his friends, who urged him for security reasons to avoid following his routine, he insisted on attending the party's regular Tuesday afternoon meeting. This would be the last time because, as president-elect of Lebanon, Bachir was about to resign his party post. Not for anything would he have sacrificed, for nebulous considerations of security, the opportunity to say a personal thank you and farewell to the branch where he had launched his political career ten years earlier.

Security was no tighter then usual at party headquarters that day. There was no need for body searches or identity check, since only party members were invited.

Bachir's car drew up to the curb in front of Phalange headquarters in Achrafieh. He was over an hour late, but they had waited for him before beginning the meeting. As he made his way slowly into the building, stopping to greet old friends and to accept their good wishes, Bachir was watched from a window above. When he entered the ground-floor meeting hall, which was packed with about four hundred party members, Habib Chartouni slipped out of the building and drove to an East Beirut neighborhood called Nasrah, less then a mile from Achrafieh.

At approximately 4:00, Bachir began to speak.

At precisely 4:10 PM, Habib Chartouni pressed the detonator.

The explosion was heard all over Beirut. The three-story building in Achrafieh rose into the air, then collapsed into rubble.

The word went out all over Beirut, Lebanon, and the world that an assassination of Bachir Gemayel had been attempted - and had failed. The exact story was hazy, though, and no one seemed quite sure where Bachir was at the moment. Some said he was wounded in the left leg and taken to hospital; others, that he walked away from the blast unharmed. But no one doubted he had escaped, once again. Although the loss was great - twenty six people would ultimately be found dead and over one hundred wounded - the relief was greater. Church bells pealed in the celebration, and Lebanese Forces soldiers fired into the air. The Voice of Lebanon radio exalted: "Today is the resurrection of Lebanon!

"But no one knew where Bachir was. No one could find him.

After several hours, the Phalange-run Voice of Lebanon station went off the air. The state-run station made no announcement, but switched to a program of solemn music. And then came a period of dreadful uncertainty, early in the morning of the next day, Lebanese Prime Minister Wazzan read a statement. Bachir Gemayel, he said, in a breaking voice, had been killed.

This was the reason for the long uncertainty: Bachir's body was unearthed early, in the first wave of rescue attempts. But his face was so badly crushed that no one recognized him. His body was taken with others to a hospital morgue, where it was identified only hours later, by his ring and a nun's letter in his pocket.

Habib Tanous Chartouni has not come into this story before and will not appear afterward, because he is nothing. He was the hand, not the mind, that did the deed. While Chartouni set and detonated the bomb, his control agent, Nabil Alam, waited somewhere in West Beirut. Both Chartouni and Alam were Lebanese Christians, but their loyalties lay with the Syrians.

Chartouni wasn't meant to be caught, and would not have been had he not forgotten something important. he was not, by all accounts, the brightest of men. Although, at a press conference after his capture, Chartouni called Bachir a traitor because of his friendship with Israel, he never meant to hurt anyone, and that the bomb was meant to only scare Bachir and teach him a lesson. It's noteworthy that at-least some of his interrogators believe him. They say that Chartouni was just dumb enough not to have realized.

The thing that Chartouni forgot was that his sister was in the building.

He remembered at the last minute, just as he was about to set off the detonator. He called her to drop everything and get out of the building at once. She ran into the street, screaming hysterically that something terrible was going to happen. Moments later, the building exploded.

She was picked up and interrogated immediately.

"How did you know something terrible was going to happen?"

"My brother told me."

"Where is your brother?"

"I don't know where he is now, but he told me to meet him later at...

"Chartouni was arrested at once. He confessed almost immediately, first to his interrogators and later publicly, at an emotionally charged press conference. When Chartouni tried to blame Bachir for his own death, by saying he had sold out to Israel, a woman journalist leapt up:

"You haven't killed a man, you've killed a country!"

JOHN AKOURI ONLINE NEWSROOM 'We will confront this mortal danger to all humanity. We will not tire, or rest, until the war on terror is won.' -- PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH Add to end of above"line without paranthesis when wanting to loop sound (( loop="-1">