BEIRUT: Locals in Beirut’s bustling commercial hub of Hamra shrugged off the arrest Friday of 17 men in a hotel believed to be linked to terrorism, following a morning raid that saw roads surrounding the building blocked off for several hours.
People continued to pop into shops and busy restaurants to take a break from the hot weather even as the raid of the Napoleon Hotel took place. In one café just down the street from the building, a crowd of customers sipped coffee and tea while watching news broadcasts about a deadly car bombing which occurred in Dahr al-Baidar shortly after the hotel occupants were rounded up by members from the General Security and the Internal Security Forces Information Branch.
As the raid got underway, security personnel parked six large Chevrolet SUVs 30 meters away from the hotel, while civilians flocked around the hotel trying to peer past the policemen holding them back.
Armed to the teeth, ISF personnel deployed heavily in the area and cordoned off the hotel’s environs, asking pedestrians to maintain a 20-meter distance from the Napoleon’s main entrance.
Citizens in the street, many of whom have grown accustomed to security threats following a spate of car bombings earlier this year and late last year, showed little sense of panic as they carried on with their normal business.
“I am not scared,” said one woman near the hotel. “I got the news through my phone and I just came to watch.”
The raid took place after security forces received a tip that suspects linked to a terror plot had sought refuge in the hotel, security sources told The Daily Star.
A senior judicial source said that State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud issued an order to go in immediately after the ISF informed him of “the presence of terrorists there.”
There were rumors that the suspects belonged to extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria that has claimed large swathes of territory in Iraq, but it was not immediately clear if this was the case.
A senior security source told The Daily Star that authorities were “working on thwarting a big security plot,” without elaborating.
The Daily Star witnessed security forces escorting 12 men out of the hotel a couple of hours after the raid began. Hunched and handcuffed, they were steered out one by one by officers. The men were piled into the parked SUVs three at a time and their luggage was hurled into the trunks.
All those seen being taken out of the hotel were in their 20s and 30s. They were dressed casually in jeans, T-shirts, Abercrombie and Fitch sweat pants and shirts, and did not look outwardly religious.
Bystanders called out each time a suspect was placed in a vehicle, keeping a running count of the number detained, while others hailed the police officers, yelling out, “May God bless you and protect you.”
Security sources told The Daily Star that 12 suspects of differing nationalities – including Lebanese, Palestinian and Pakistani nationals – were arrested in the Napoleon hotel, with another five people arrested nearby.
After the suspects had been removed from the hotel, a group of four businessmen exited the main entrance toward upper Hamra.
One of these, a guest at the hotel, told The Daily Star, “[Security forces] confiscated all the guests’ passports and asked us to stay in our rooms. They didn’t search all the rooms, only the ones under suspicion.”
“I was supposed to be at a conference at 9 a.m.,” he lamented.
Witnesses on the street also reported that at least one guest was seen being escorted out of the nearby Casa D’or Hotel by security forces.
Officials at the Casa D’or Hotel refused to disclose any information concerning any possible arrests, but a concierge there said, “Police officers also came in here before heading to the Napoleon.”