Alain Sandouk got angry when a car bomb targeting the US ambassador exploded in Karantina, next to Beirut harbor, on January 15, 2008. The 53-year-old car restorer frowned and scolded his wife for calling him to come home to see the news about the bombing on television. “Don’t ever call me to watch these atrocities!” he thundered. “The Lebanese people should take to the streets, not eat, not drink, not sleep until they are told who is making these bombs and killing these people.”
Ten days later, on January 25, at around 10 a.m., Alain Sandouk was trying out the new brakes of his son Joe’s car on the highway in his neighborhood, Hazmieh. The last thing he heard was the convoy of Internal Security Forces Captain Wissam Eid beeping at him to move aside. Just as he pulled over, the car bomb carrying a reported 75 kilograms of TNT blew up. Sandouk is one of the victims of political attacks since 2005 that NOW Lebanon is focusing on in our spotlight.
Three years after his death, his wife, Therese Sandouk, sits on the couch in her living room and bites her lips while remembering her husband. “Alain didn’t care about politics. He never supported any political party. He liked to see his boys around him and watch them talk, and used to tell me that this is what makes him happy,” she tells NOW Lebanon.
Therese Sandouk speaks of her husband’s passion for old cars. He used to save them from certain death: picking up their rusty carcasses, re-painting them, installing new engines and turning them into collectors’ items in his workshop on the Hazmieh highway. It was his hobby and his job, and he had pictures with cars he had refurbished hanging in frames on the walls of his house. His favorite car, remembers Therese, was a 1961 Jaguar E Type he had worked on for four years. “He was so proud of it. He refused to sell it and kept it in the garage,” she says, managing a smile. “Look, isn’t it beautiful?” she adds, pointing to a picture. The sofa is covered with family photo albums. Her husband, a dark-haired man with a thick moustache, is in most of the photos.
“These were all around the house after he died,” she says. “But I had to put them away. We all had a hard time dealing with the grief.”
Therese Sandouk’s first memory of that day is the sound of the explosion. She was in the kitchen, heard a car horn and ran to the balcony to see if it was her husband. But then the windows of her living room were shattered to pieces. She ran back into the house and turned on the television.
She knew her husband’s workshop was close to the explosion site. She says her first thought was to call her eldest son Anthony, who had taken that road to join his father at work. She says he sounded fine, although he was at the scene of the attack. He told her nothing about his father.
Then came the shock. Therese saw on television her son Joe’s broken car and a body in it. She didn’t know Alain and Joe had switched cars that morning. “My first scream was, ‘My son! My son! My son!’ and I felt I was about to faint.”
For three hours her torment continued; she still thought her son had died and went to the scene of the explosion to see his body. She found her son Anthony standing there, bleeding after having a fight with a soldier who wouldn’t let him get near his brother’s car. “Where is Alain?” she asked him. “He went down to see what happened,” she remembers her son answering.
She saw her son Joe, alive, later on the scene. But her relief was short-lived. It was only when they got home that Anthony had the courage to tell her that her husband was dead.
“He told me, ‘My dad is injured.’ I asked him, ‘How was he injured?’ He told me his dad was passing by the site of the explosion, and he had been injured. And I realized it,” she says. “‘It was really your father in the car,’ she told her son. ‘It means he was torn to pieces because I saw pieces of flesh in there.’ He told me: Yes, dad died.’”
But it was what happened after her husband was killed that she calls “the real death.” Grief has turned her and her children’s lives inside out. “Anthony saw everything. He was there. He went into a serious depression after what he saw. We all needed to see a psychologist, but he was the one who was shaken the most,” she tells NOW Lebanon. “I found him one night hugging an invisible person and saying, ‘No. I love you. Don’t go.’ [Her daughter] Sabine used to wake up after dreaming about her father warning her that Anthony was not well,” she says, biting her lips.
But the expression on her face changes from grief to anger when she talks about wanting to know who killed her husband. “If we don’t want justice, it means we are people who surrender, and that whoever wants to hurt us that they can hurt whoever they want without being punished. If we don’t want justice for the times we put our killed relatives’ pictures on the walls to mourn them, if we don’t want their killers to be punished, then we are not human anymore,” she says, almost shouting.
“I hope nobody in Lebanon will ever lose her husband, her son, her brother this way. This is the real death, the most terrible death,” she says with tears in her eyes.