Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 1   No. 10

October 1999 

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Church Bombing Heightens Fears of Renewed Sectarian Violence

Church bombing

The crime scene
Memories of Lebanon's historical experience with sectarian bloodletting suddenly resurfaced on October 3 when a bomb exploded at the Saint Georgious Church in Dikwaneh, killing a 67-year-old deacon, Shafik Rajha. An estimated 1,000 worshipers left the building only moments before the blast.

The explosion occurred as Rajha was opening a suspicious bag left on a church pew to inspect its contents shortly after the 11:30 A.M. mass. Apparently the zipper of the bag was attached to the pin of a Russian-made grenade lying inside, which detonated when the bag was opened.1

Investigators have released a sketch of the suspect based upon the accounts of those present at the scene. One witness who was standing outside the church prior to the explosion, 12-year old Jad Abu Daher, said that a bearded stranger left the church when worshipers stood up to take communion."I come here every Sunday and I know everybody that comes here. I didn't know that man. I think they meant to kill the priest." No arrests have been made, however.

The crime was intended "to attract the media and undermine civil peace," said Chief Military Prosecutor Nasri Lahoud. "It's clear that such an action was perpetrated by either a network or a side manipulating a network," he continued, "and this is not the first time that they have sent us a such a message. This crime was intended to create an uproar that will undermine national security."2

The last church bombing in Lebanese occurred in February 1994 at the Sayyidet al-Najat church in Zouk, which killed 11 people and wounded 59. In what many considered a travesty of justice, Lebanese authorities charged members of the predominantly Christian Lebanese Forces militia with responsibility for that attack. Many Christians felt ill at ease with Lahoud's explicit comparison between the two cases. "All crimes like this since 1994 have been revealed and I say that we will reveal this one within a month or two as well."3

  1 "L'explosion de l'eglise de Dekouneh: Un attentat commandite de l'exterieur," La Revue du Liban, 9-16 October 1999.
  2 "Dikwaneh Residents in Shock after Grenade Kills Church Warden," The Daily Star, 4 October 1999.
  3 Ibid.

1999 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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