When Lebanese photographer Joe Bejjani got ready to drop his children off at school, the last thing he expected was to be ambushed by two masked assailants who would gun him down as he got into his vehicle.
The gruesome slaying of Bejjani rocked Lebanon and forewarned of very darks days to come.
The hit on Bejjani is the third homicide in the last six months that resembled a hit job. A former anti-smuggling customs authority, Mounir Abu Rjeily, stationed at the Beirut port, which exploded in August, was found dead earlier this month. In June, a high-ranking bank executive was found dead in the parking lot of his home.
Bejjani, a 37-year-old freelance photographer and former Alfa telecom employee, one of Lebanon’s mobile operators, had no real enemies and his hobby of photographing military vehicles and parades led him to take on freelance jobs with the Lebanese army and several publications which cover military issues.
The hit on Bejjani was recorded by surveillance cameras from his apartment building and clearly showed a professional squad executing a planned hit. The team kept their backs to the camera, but they wore no gloves and seemed unafraid to leave their fingerprints on the crime scene, but they spent 15 second’s searching Bejjani’s car to retrieve his cell phone before disappearing into an adjacent secluded road where they were met with their getaway vehicle.
Despite being a card carrying member of the Lebanese Forces party, Bejjani lacked the seniority or the profile for his murder to be a political message. His former job at Alfa telecom was largely based on logistics, and he had no access to any security data which could have exposed him to any real danger.
Bejjani, sources have said, was one of the first people to arrive at the port following the deadly explosion and he was hired by the Lebanese Army and the international committee investigating the port blast to take forensic pictures, which according to the general public put his live in danger.
Beyond the recent targeted killings, Colonel Joseph Skaff, former Chief of the drug control division at the Lebanese Customs who died suspiciously in 2017, called for the removal of the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate which arrived at the Port of Beirut in 2013 that would cause the explosion this year.
The deaths of Bejjani, Rjeily, and Skaff all converge on Hezbollah’s alleged connection to the Beirut port explosion.
Bejjani’s assassination confirms that a professional outfit was involved, one which has no trouble operating in a purely Christian area such as the victim’s village of Kehaleh, revealing their unlimited resources. More importantly, this revealed that they are out of reach of the Lebanese security apparatuses, if not part of it.
Moreover, Bejjani’s slaying drew parallel images to the many assassinations starting in 2005, with the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and dozens of anti-Syrian and anti-Iranian politicians, murders which are yet to be uncovered.
Interestingly, a few weeks back, the High Council of Defense warned of potential assassination attempts against a number of politicians, though it stopped short of naming potential targets. The vague warning created a gale of confusion and criticism, with Lebanese pointing to the state’s inability to protect its people.
It is no coincidence that the ruling establishment that issued such a disclaimer ultimately failed to protect life, liberty and property – the three essential items that regulate any type of social contract between Lebanese citizens and the state. Such a disclaimer feels more like an implicit admittance of failure, rather than an effort to protect.
Although Bejjani was killed by a silencer, the three bullets that ended this young man’s life were loud enough to remind Lebanese what is really at stake in today’s Lebanon, and that no one is safe, no matter where they go and what they do. In a tragic twist of fate, Bejjani was preparing to emigrate to Canada with his family, and the blood-stained immigration papers found in his car serve as another cruel reminder that for those who try to challenge the political elite, escaping Lebanon – and the darkness that is surely coming – is a futile endeavor.
Makram Rabah is a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, Department of History. His book Conflict on Mount Lebanon: The Druze, the Maronites and Collective Memory (Edinburgh University Press) covers collective identities and the Lebanese Civil War.