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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

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">