BEIRUT: The suicide bomber who killed a security officer and wounded 25 people in this week’s midnight attack had intended to strike “a big target” in Beirut’s southern suburbs, but his plan was foiled by a sudden malfunction in his vehicle, judicial sources said Tuesday.
“The suicide bomber did not intend to blow himself up in the location where the bombing occurred. Information indicates that he had intended [to strike] a big target in Beirut’s southern suburbs,” a senior judicial source told The Daily Star.
The midnight suicide bombing outside a cafe near a Lebanese Army checkpoint in Tayyouneh, one of the main entrances into the southern suburbs, was the second to jolt Lebanon in three days, heightening fears of violent spillover from Syria and Iraq.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri condemned the Tayyouneh bombing as “a cowardly act by some groups that do not want the state,” and urged Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria to spare Lebanon further bombings linked to the neighboring conflict.
“The government and security and military commanders must work seriously to stop this cycle,” Hariri told reporters after meeting former President Michel Sleiman in Paris.
“The fire will reach us if some are interfering in Syrian or Iraqi affairs,” he said.
Speaker Nabih Berri warned of security threats as a result of the developments in Iraq.
“The security situation is dangerous in light of what is happening in Iraq and the Saudi-Iranian alienation,” Berri was quoted as saying, referring to the rift between the Sunni Gulf kingdom and Shiite Iran.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam also condemned the bombing, saying: “This criminal action ... is a clear attempt to undermine Lebanon’s stability and strike at its national unity.”
Hezbollah condemned “this cowardly action and whoever stood behind it,” calling on the military and security forces to continue their efforts “to thwart criminal conspiracies and plans against Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
The judicial source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the suicide bomber deliberately drove through Tayyouneh’s inner streets in a bid to avoid the Army checkpoint.
But a sudden malfunction forced him to stop in the middle of the road outside a cafe in the neighborhood, the source added.
The car’s sudden stop raised the suspicions of two General Security personnel who happened to be driving down the same road. The two officers stepped out of their vehicle and questioned the bomber, who claimed his car key had broken and he was trying to start the car, the source said.
The bomber’s nervous behavior prompted Ali Jaber, one of the two officers, to race to the nearby Army checkpoint to alert them while Abdul-Karim Hodroj, a General Security sergeant, stayed with the bomber to ensure he did not escape.
Seconds later, the bomber detonated the vehicle, killing Hodroj instantly, the source said. Jaber was wounded in the bombing and taken to Sahel Hospital.
Announcing Hodroj’s death, the Directorate General of General Security said the victim had spared the area “a real disaster [that would have occurred] had the terrorist been able to reach any civilian or military gathering to carry out his crime.”
It added that General Security personnel are ready to confront terrorism alongside other security forces.
The judicial source added that the vehicle had been rigged with between 25 and 30 kilograms of inflammable explosives attached to detonators and that one of the detonators had malfunctioned, preventing a further problem.
DNA tests confirmed that Hodroj, who was reported missing just after the blast, had been killed.
Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr ordered security agencies to launch a probe. Saqr, who visited the blast scesitene Tuesday morning, said explosives were planted everywhere in the car. Lebanon has been on high alert since a suicide bombing at a police checkpoint on the Beirut-Damascus highway last Friday. A policeman was killed and 33 people were wounded. General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim narrowly escaped after the blast went off 200 meters from his convoy.
Meanwhile, an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group warned Hezbollah of more attacks in the southern suburbs in what appeared to be an indirect claim of responsibility for Monday’s suicide bombing in Tayyouneh.
Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the religious guide of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said the explosions were part of a series of attacks in response to Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria. “[Hezbollah] will not be living safely, until security is returned to the people of Syria and Lebanon,” he wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, a French national who was detained during a police raid on a hotel in Beirut last week said the Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) recruited him to carry out a suicide attack in Lebanon, a source close to the investigation said. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal confirmed Tuesday that a French national had been arrested in Lebanon on suspicion of planning a terror attack.
The man, originally from the Comoros islands, confessed “to having been recruited by ISIS from abroad, tasking him to move to Lebanon and prepare himself for a suicide operation that would be scheduled later,” the judicial source told The Daily Star.
The suspect was told to wait at the Napoleon Hotel in Hamra until someone delivered the explosives-rigged vehicle to him and specified the target where he would carry out the bombing, the source said, adding that the detainee said he arrived in Beirut a week before his arrest accompanied by another person tasked with a similar mission.
According to the source, the suspect told investigators that a room was reserved for him and the other man, who then changed his mind and decided to leave Beirut two days before the ISF raided the hotel.
The detainee claimed that people he did not know used to come to the hotel and give him money to pay for his residence and food, the source said.