BEIRUT: Security services stepped up their crackdown on terror cells across the country Wednesday, as a suicide bomber blew himself up in a room at a Beirut hotel to avoid arrest during a raid.
The suicide bombing, the third to hit Lebanon in less than a week, wounded 12 people, a security source told The Daily Star.
The General Security said members of its elite unit raided Duroy Hotel in the Raouche district of Beirut Wednesday evening after they received information that two guests there were believed to be preparing for an attack.
“When the unit’s members reached the door of the room where the two suspects were staying, one of them detonated an explosives belt, killing himself instantly and wounding three members of the unit, who were transferred to the American University of Beirut Medical Center for treatment,” the statement said.
It added that the second suspect was arrested and is currently in hospital and being interrogated.
“The General Directorate of the General Security reiterates that in coordination with security and Army services, it will show no leniency in pursuing terrorists and will not spare any effort to prevent them from implementing their plans to deal a blow to Lebanon’s stability and drag it into strife,” the statement said. Nine civilians who sustained wounds as a result of the blast also received treatment at Beirut hospitals.
LBCI reported that a person in the hotel lobby may have alerted the bomber to the General Security raid.
Authorities later carried out more raids in hotels in Hamra, Raouche and Ras Beirut in search of suspects.
Security sources had said earlier that services were hunting for two potential suicide bombers in Beirut as well as a huge bomb-laden truck.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said the second bomber who failed to detonate his explosives was a Saudi national.
A security source said the suicide bomber was also a Saudi.
“Security measures taken are preventing suicide bombers from carrying out their operations. This is a great thing and the work of all security services should be appreciated for this,” Machnouk said at the site of the explosion. “The suicide bomber in Raouche was planning to blow himself up somewhere else but the General Security has staged a pre-emptive operation.”
Commenting on the blast, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Lebanon’s Muslims despised terrorism and expressed his full solidarity with Lebanese security services in their war against terrorism, calling on authorities to hunt down attackers across the country.“I express my full solidarity with security services: the Army, the General Security, Internal Security Forces and State Security personnel as they confront pockets of terror,” he tweeted. “We call on security forces to pursue the highest levels of coordination and to strike pockets of terror wherever they are.”
“Muslims in Lebanon have no connection to those [who claim to be Muslims but] have no description or sect other than terrorism,” Hariri continued, in reference to the suicide bombers.
The Saudi Embassy in Beirut said it was coordinating with Lebanese security forces to determine the identity of the suicide bomber and whether his identification card was forged.
The explosion comes just two days after a suicide bomber killed a General Security sergeant at a checkpoint in the Beirut southern suburb of Tayyouneh.
That attack followed another suicide bombing last Friday that killed a police officer at a checkpoint in the east Lebanon town of Dahr al-Baidar. The blast coincided with a raid on a Beirut hotel and the arrest of a French national who confessed to having been planning to carry out a suicide bombing.
The three explosions have totally shattered the calm Lebanon has enjoyed over the previous three months following a nationwide security plan, and have dashed any hopes of a summer tourism revival to boost the tattered economy.
Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr said three General Security personnel were among the wounded in Wednesday’s blast, which occurred around 7:30 p.m.
“Lebanon and anyone who does their job to combat terrorism is being targeted,” said head of General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who visited the wounded at the American University of Beirut Medical Center. “Such attacks will not intimidate us.”
An employee at the hotel told The Daily Star that the facility was hosting a function in its lobby when security forces stormed the premises. “Seconds later, the blast happened,” said the man, identifying himself as Mohammad.
Fire raged inside the seven-story building, with plumes of smoke rising from two rooms clearly visible on the city’s skyline.
Media reports said security forces apprehended three people of Arab nationality who are part of a terror cell as they continued raids in the area.
Separately, security forces arrested three Saudi women and two Syrian men in the Bekaa Valley town of Ablah and confiscated a suitcase believed to be stacked with explosives, a security source said.
Also Wednesday, the Army announced it had arrested members of a terror cell planning to assassinate the head of General Security in north Lebanon.
Speaking to The Daily Star, a security source said the cell’s planned target, Lt. Col. Khattar Nassereddine, was close to Maj. Gen. Ibrahim, who was believed to be the target of last Friday’s bombing.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the five-member cell blamed Nassereddine for the arrest of “many young Muslims in the northern city of Tripoli” and oppressing Sunni youths.
Nassereddine was also behind the controversial, brief arrest of Islamist Shadi Mawlawi in 2012 in Tripoli.
The military statement said Lebanese Army Intelligence arrested the terrorist cell in Qalamoun, 5 kilometers south of Tripoli. The Army did not say exactly when the arrests took place, only that they were referred Wednesday to the judiciary. The statement identified the detainees as Wassim Ahmad al-Qass, Wissam Ahmad al-Qass, Danny Ahmad al-Qass, Amjad Nouhad al-Khatib and Nabil Kamel Baida.
The Army said the military was still pursuing other cell members.
Wednesday’s arrest of the terrorist cell came hours after Lebanese authorities said they had detained six members of another criminal cell in Tripoli’s Zahrieh neighborhood including a university professor and two students. – Additional reporting by Nizar Hassan