shopgirls and rebels: the 1958 ABC bombing
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 26, 2008
Kheireddine’s comment about the 1958 bombing that targeted the ABC in Bab Idriss made me curious to know more. So I did a little online investigating (thank you, once again, New York Times archives!) and found an article about the bombing, dated July 9, 1958.
Its a long article, reprinted from United Press International, a US-based international news agency – meaning either that the Times didn’t have someone stationed in Beirut at the time or that perhaps its correspondent was out of the country. The length suggests that the story was reprinted in full, so the paper’s editors believed that readers would find it interesting. But it was printed on page 9 – not page 1.
Here it is:
Rebel Bomb Rips Big Beirut Store
Explosion and Fire Kill 2 Persons and Injure Fifty in 5-Story Building
BEIRUT, Lebanon, July 8 (UPI)
A rebel bomb blasted and set fire to a five-story department store thronged with shoppers in downtown Beirut today in the biggest bombing incident of the nine-week Lebanese revolt.
Police said at least two persons had been killed and between fifty and sixty injured in the explosion and fire that ripped through the big ABC store during a peak shopping period. Many of the injured were teen-age shop girls.
Twenty of the wounded were hospitalized with serious injuries. Police said fourteen were in “grave” condition, including six who were not expected to live.
The department store, one of Beirut’s largest, was a favorite shopping center for Americans and other members of the foreign colony. But the United States Embassy said it had received no reports of any American casualties.
[I don't think this paragraph was meant to imply that Americans might have been the intended target of the bombing - just to add a "local interest" element for American readers.]
The combined dynamite-incendiary bomb exploded just as the first wave of morning shoppers poured into the store. The blast smashed the ground-floor plate glass windows of the store, broke other shop windows for a block around and shook buildings a mile away. Sheets of flame raced through the first two floors of the store.
Bomb Believed in Truck
Police believed the bomb had been hidden by rebel terrorists in a soft drink delivery truck parked alongside the store. The truck was turned into a blackened pile of scrap and one of its wheels was blown across the street. Bottles of soft drink exploded in the heat and whistled through the streets like high-explosive projectiles.
The driver of the truck was at first believed to have been killed. But police later theorized that he and his assistant had parked the truck, set the bomb and then disappeared, carrying cases of bottles on a faked delivery.
The local manager of the soft drink plant was taken into custody by police for questioning after the blast.
Two other bombs exploded in Beirut during the day. One went off in a flower shop fifty yards from the department store. But no casualties were reported in these incidents.
Firemen fought for more than two hours at the ABC story before bringing the flames under control. Six persons were injured, two seriously, in three private cars that were driving past the store when the bomb exploded.
The heat of the flames prevented firemen from entering the building. Fiery debris pelted down from the burning building to hamper further the efforts of fire-fighters.
The top two stories of the building were rented by the Middle Eastern office of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. There were no reports of casualties among personnel of the office.
The history of the Singer Sewing Machine Company in the Middle East and other parts of the world is quite interesting – but its not my focus here. The story of the bombing is quite gripping – and it must have been a nightmare to live through for the store’s employees and shoppers.
I know that ABC has a store near Bab Idriss today – one that focuses exclusively on cosmetics and beauty products. Does anyone (hint, hint, Kheireddine!) know whether this is the same building – or at least, a building on the same footprint – as the one that was bombed?