Security forces cause panic among residents during drill

BEIRUT (AP) — First came the blast, followed by heavy black smoke and cars on fire. Bloodied casualties lay on the ground and ambulances rushed to the scene.
It all looked too familiar, but it wasn’t real. A security drill by army troops and police on handling car bombs and other security breaches caused panic among residents Thursday who mistook the situation for another attack in Beirut.

The army published a statement warning locals about the exercise in local newspapers Thursday, but in this tense country where at least 10 explosions have rocked the capital in the past six months, it was not enough. The sound of explosions sent citizens scrambling for their phones to determine the cause.

“It is a simulation of car bombs, in case, God forbid, there should be more explosions,” a senior police official told the Associated Press.

The exercise was designed to prevent confusion between the different security agencies and their responsibilities at the scene of any such future attacks, the official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak officially to the press.

Lebanese army troops and police, civil defence workers, firefighters and the Red Cross took part in the drill, supervised by high level security and judicial officials.

The aim was to learn to deal with attacks “in a highly effective, advanced and scientific way while preserving evidence at the scene of the crime,” the official said.

Two car bombs were detonated in the drill in the seaside district of Karantina just east of Beirut — an area that witnessed some of the most savage fighting of the 1975-90 civil war. Emergency workers rushed with sirens wailing to the scene and attended to about a dozen bloodied “casualties” lying on the ground.

Nearby residents panicked at the blasts and fled the scene, later gathering on a bridge overlooking the explosions and watched. Many reached for their mobile phones to try to get information. The state-run National News Agency said it received dozens of calls from inquiring citizens.

Firefighters put out the raging fire as workers rehearsed evacuating casualties.

A string of car bomb assassinations of politicians and other figures have hit Lebanon in recent months, the most devastating being the February 14 bomb that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 20 others.

The assassination provoked a sea change in Lebanese politics and forced the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in April, ending a 29-year military presence.

An initial UN report into Hariri’s killing detailed a host of flaws, including the disappearance of crucial evidence and tampering with the scene of the blast. A UN-mandated team is now in Lebanon investigating the killing.

Bombings have also targeted shopping and commercial areas in Christian areas.

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