BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk Friday said Lebanese security agencies were prepared to confront terrorism in Lebanon, adding that Western intelligence had warned authorities of a possible imminent attack.
“Both the government and security forces are ready and prepared to confront terrorism,” Machnouk told reporters at the Grand Serail following an urgent security meeting in the wake of a deadly car bomb on a highway in east Lebanon.
“I do not want to say that what happened today came as a surprise. We had information that explosive-rigged vehicles were roaming in the country. Security and military forces dealt with such information with utmost seriousness,” he said.
A suicide car bombing at 11:30 a.m. at a checkpoint in Dahr al-Baidar on the highway between Beirut and the Bekaa Valley killed a Lebanese police officer and wounded 32 other people. The target of the suicide bomber was believed to be a location in Beirut.
Hours before the bombing, Internal Security Forces Information Branch raided a hotel in the Beirut district of Hamra and apprehended 17 terror suspects who were alleged to have been involved in an assassination plot against Speaker Nabih Berri.
Machnouk said it was he who had told Berri to remain indoors and refrain from attending a scheduled morning ceremony at UNESCO in Downtown Beirut.
“I contacted Nabih Berri to inform him that he should take precautionary measures today, not necessarily that the UNESCO gathering was the target,” he said. “We received such information from credible Western sources that gatherings would be a target but not necessarily the UNESCO event.”
Machnouk said he understood people’s concerns and pain but that Lebanon’s proximity to Syria and Iraq should not be overlooked.
“We have been dealing with this [regional] fire for three years but its consequences remain very limited,” he said.
The minister also called on Lebanese to unite and put aside their political differences “because that is not the way to address the fire surrounding us.”