BEIRUT/SIDON, Lebanon: Stepped-up security measures were taken throughout the country Friday with police and residents on high alert a week after the deadly bombings in Tripoli.
Internal Security Forces personnel deployed throughout Beirut around most of its mosques, including the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque in the Downtown area.
Policemen prevented cars from parking in the vicinity of the mosques during the Friday prayers, blocking off access with yellow tape.
The ISF said that there was no armed presence in Beirut except for the state’s security agencies.
An ISF officer said that most of Beirut’s prominent mosques had a security presence, confirming that roads near mosques were cordoned off and no cars were allowed nearby.
Last Friday, twin car bombs ripped through two mosques in Tripoli during prayers, killing at least 47 and wounding hundreds.
The attack came a week after a bombing in the southern suburbs of Beirut that killed 30 people.
Protective measures were taken across Sidon amid fears that the bombings in Beirut and Tripoli would be repeated in the southern city.
Many residents stayed home amid a heightened security presence in the city. Sidon has not yet recovered from the violence that engulfed its suburb of Abra in June, when militants loyal to Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir clashed with the Lebanese Army.
The precautions around roughly 50 mosques in the city extended beyond the immediate environs to include nearby streets and side roads. Security forces used cement and steel barriers to prevent cars from parking near sidewalks in the areas around mosques.
Personnel from the Army, Internal Security Forces and intelligence bodies deployed around the mosques and nearby roads, while local youth committees took charge inside the perimeters of the places of worship.
Sheikh Salim Sousan, Sidon’s mufti, defended the security measures.
“It was necessary to take these security measures ... to protect our city from being targeted by criminals who want blood, murder and destruction,” Sousan said in a statement.
He said the targeting of the mosques in Tripoli as well as the car bombs in the southern suburbs meant there was a risk of continued violence.
“We don’t know if this scenario will continue and will target other locations in this country,” he said.
“They didn’t refrain from placing car bombs on the doors of mosques and killing innocents among the faithful as they prayed with their children.”
The security measures were put in place at all public facilities and were coordinated with local security and municipal authorities, mosque and youth committees, Sousan said.
“Mosques are places for worship, prayer and the faithful, not centers for inciting any strife or sectarianism,” the sheikh added.
A circular that was distributed in Sidon instructed worshippers who were going to Friday prayers to walk to local mosques instead of using their cars or to use taxis to get there, and to pray at mosques close to their homes or offices.
The authorities also asked that mosque-goers report any suspicious vehicles, not pray in courtyards near the mosque doors or in the street, avoid sitting under windows and to leave the mosques individually instead of in groups. The circular also called on them to fully cooperate with security personnel assigned to the protection of the mosques.
Nicolas Bou Daher, the governor of south Lebanon, met with municipal officials from the area to discuss security measures.
“We are meeting today about an issue that is important to us all, which is to provide security to everyone especially after what happened in Dahiyeh and Tripoli,” Abu Daher said, referring to the southern suburbs.
“It is essential that we remain alert to what happened in order to protect the security, unity and stability of Lebanon,” he said.
A similar meeting in Tripoli that included north Lebanon’s governor coordinated the security measures around mosques in the region.
Security personnel were also deployed near mosques in Akkar in the north, while in the southern city of Nabatieh, checkpoints were set up on main thoroughfares.
Metal barriers were set up throughout busy streets and squares in the city and visitors were subjected to further checks, according to the Central News Agency. Cement blocks were also placed around important buildings in the city.