It’s a happy moment, a selfie taken by a group of teenagers on a sunny day in downtown Beirut. Mohammed Shaar sits among his friends in a red hoodie and his dark-framed glasses.
The next photos, captured by journalists only moments later, are tragic. The 16-year-old Shaar lies mortally wounded, his red hoodie and his blood forming a scarlet blur on the pavement — an anonymous civilian casualty of a car bomb that killed a prominent politician.
الانفجار فرق الاصحاب… التقطوا الصورة قبل لحظات من الانفجار.. #صورة_موجعة #ابرياء pic.twitter.com/m8JUJJK0Uq
— عبدالله (@Abdallah_Jibai) December 27, 2013
The before-and-after montage of Shaar, who died of his wounds a day after Friday’s bombing, has rattled Lebanese who in Shaar’s ordinary-turned-horrifying day saw their own lives and potentially their own fate. The Lebanese teenager has since become a symbol of a population held ransom by the country’s widening violence and swelling tensions between Sunnis and Shiites, exacerbated by the war in neighboring Syria.
On Monday, hundreds of Shaar’s fellow students marched to the Starco building, outside of which the bombing took place. They held signs saying “We are all Mohammed,” waved the Lebanese flag and left flowers.
The powerful car bomb targeted Mohammed Chatah, a former finance minister critical of Syria and Hezbollah. Chatah’s allies in a mainly Sunni political coalition backed by the West quickly pointed the finger at the Shiite Hezbollah guerrilla group, which denied the accusations.
But the blast, on a main avenue of the ritzy downtown shopping district, killed not only Chatah and his driver but also five passers-by — including Shaar.
Friends said Shaar was out in downtown celebrating the end of the school semester, having coffee with his three friends at a Starbucks. They then strolled through downtown to the Starco building, a complex of offices and shops. There, they took that last selfie. Moments later, the district was shaken by the blast, which sent a plume of black smoke over the area — and Shaar fell with a bleeding shrapnel wound in the head.
At his funeral on Sunday, sectarian anger bubbled up, with some mourners chanting anti-Shiite slogans.
But more prevalent was anger over being caught in the crossfire as powerful factions — whoever they may be — fight out their political differences. Shaar, a Sunni, wasn’t political or particularly religious, those who knew him said. Several hundred emerged for his funeral, and tens gathered outside, some holding signs protesting the deaths of civilians.