Friday, March 23, 2007

Explosives expert defuses bomb on AUB campus

Explosives expert defuses bomb on AUB campus
By Theodore May and Mira Borji
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Internal Security Forces successfully dismantled a bomb found Thursday at the American University of Beirut. A janitor first discovered the bomb at 9:30 a.m. outside of Issam Fares Hall, near the American University Medical Center. The latest discovery comes at a time when unexploded bombs have been found with regularity throughout the country. The acting president of AUB, Maroun Kisirwani, said in a statement that a 200-gram bomb had been left inside a paper bag. A security source said an Internal Security Forces team that included Brigadier Ghassan Barakat and an explosives expert were called to the scene to defuse and remove the bomb. The security official added that the bomb had been placed out of sight of security cameras. After the bomb was defused, police dogs were brought in to sweep the area around the hall.

Kisirwani said that a meeting of the AUB Workers Syndicate had been scheduled to meet in Issam Fares Hall later on Thursday morning. While the area around the bomb was cordoned off, no buildings were closed or evacuated and the syndicate meeting went ahead as scheduled. Abdallah Faour, the president of the syndicate, described the incident as "a black day in the history of AUB." Faour did not cast suspicion in any specific direction, but said the bomb's placement and timing were directly related to the meeting.

A complaint against the anonymous culprit had been filed, he said. The security source said teams were investigating a series of emails sent by an insurance firm to a senior official at the AUB Workers Syndicate. "These emails included threats, aimed at exerting pressure on the official to give that company the exclusive rights to insure workers," the source said.

News of the security violation was slow to the reach those on campus, with many students interviewed by The Daily Star at noon still unaware that a bomb had been planted at their university. Students' reactions to the news ranged from ambivalence to mild concern. "It's not shocking because it's been a while since we had any action here," said one female student who wished to remain anonymous. "But it's kind of scary because we have a lot of international students here." "We feel insecure," said student Maya Sharif. "But I think they are threatening us and not trying to kill us because they put the bombs in the places where they can be found. They want us to be scared." "I'm not shocked," said Khalil Khraibani, another student. "We're used to it." Many in the administration also professed to be unaffected by the incident. "I am not worried because I don't think it's a threat for the university. I think it's more [aimed] toward the [Workers Syndicate] meeting than the university," one senior administrator said, also on condition of anonymity.

The administrator added that AUB had no plans as of Thursday to beef up security on and around campus. Meanwhile, a prank phone call from Bir Hassan paralyzed the area briefly after an anonymous caller from an unknown phone booth told police that there was a bomb in an area of Bir Hassan. Police gathered at the scene with police dogs but nothing was found. An investigation has been opened to ascertain the identity of the caller. - Additional reporting by Nadim Zaazaa

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