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Beirut hotels empty amid crackdown

People drag their luggage as they leave the hotels district in Beirut's Raouche, Thursday, June 26, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Hotels in Beirut’s touristic Raouche neighborhood were on lockdown Thursday, with managers upping security measures to reassure guests amid a continued search for potential suicide bombers.

Just down the road from the Duroy Hotel, where a Saudi suicide bomber blew himself up in his room Wednesday evening to avoid being detained during a security raid, Hisham al-Okaily said security forces had been into his hotel to ask for guest documentation three times since the blast.

“They have been asking for photocopies of [IDs of] people staying here,” said Okaily, manager of The Diplomat Hotel. “They came at 11 p.m., 2 a.m. and again this morning at 9. ... We are now searching the luggage of every new guest. Luckily it’s mostly families here.”

The atmosphere in the back streets of Raouche, a popular area where locals and foreigners alike come to walk along the seafront and take pictures of the famous Pigeon Rock, remained tense throughout the day as security forces conducted an hourslong raid on the upscale Ramada Plaza hotel just opposite the Duroy. Two people were later arrested in the establishment, according to security sources on the scene.

The surrounding area was crawling with General Security officers, plainclothes policemen and Army soldiers in bulletproof vests, while passersby were forbidden from coming near the scene. Worried looking guests were seen being evacuated into taxis along with all their luggage.

“They are checking every room,” one female guest said as she left. “I think everything is fine though.”

The junction by the two hotels was closed for most of the day as the Ramada Plaza raid took place and forensic scientists examined the Duroy Hotel. Broken glass and piles of sodden rags littered the road until Sukleen was sent in to clean up the area in the late afternoon.

“An Iraqi family who had been staying at Duroy came to our hotel to find a room last night,” said Atef Awada, general manager of the nearby Grand Suites Hotel, with a shake of his head. “Their IDs had been confiscated as part of the raid, and normally I wouldn’t let people without an ID check in – but what else could I do, make them sleep on the street?”

Awada confirmed that he was taking extra precautions following recent events, which include the arrest last Friday of terror suspects in two Hamra hotels.

“Everything here is tense, nervous. It makes me very worried,” he said. “We now check everybody’s luggage before they come in, especially guests from the Gulf. They don’t normally come here so we are being especially careful with them.”

Struggling to deal with the presence of around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, closed borders due to the civil war next door and travel warnings from several countries, Lebanon’s economy is in tatters. The discovery of numerous potential terrorists in hotels across west Beirut has likely killed any chance of a much-needed tourism boom, and the prospect of a calm summer after several quiet months is now evaporating with alarming speed.

Round the corner at the City Suite Hotel, Operations Manager Teddy Aouad admitted that the foiled Duroy terror plot had caused a significant loss in business.

“One [person] checked out this morning, and five people due to arrive yesterday never showed up,” he said. “We heard in the news that some hotels were being raided, but thank God there is nothing suspicious here.”

Sources said security forces also raided the Golden Tulip Galleria Hotel in the Jnah neighborhood of Beirut Thursday, leading to the arrest of a Saudi and Syrian national.

At the King’s Suites Hotel, which is opposite Ramada Plaza and right next to the Duroy, a family of four was busy checking out despite having only arrived the day before.

“We were walking on Raouche when we heard it,” said the mother, a Puerto Rican. “It sounded like a car accident, but my husband is Lebanese and he suspected different.”

“Then I checked the news on here,” added her son, pointing to his tablet computer, “and we saw it was a bomb.”

“We’re staying somewhere else tonight and leaving tomorrow,” the mother said.

Staff at the King’s Suites Hotel declined to comment on whether or not they had been raided as part of the security sweep of the area, as did those at a nearby branch of the popular Rotana hotel chain, Raouche Arjaan.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 27, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Hotels in Beirut's touristic Raouche neighborhood were on lockdown Thursday, with managers upping security measures to reassure guests amid a continued search for potential suicide bombers.

Just down the road from the Duroy Hotel, where a Saudi suicide bomber blew himself up in his room Wednesday evening to avoid being detained during a security raid, Hisham al-Okaily said security forces had been into his hotel to ask for guest documentation three times since the blast.

The junction by the two hotels was closed for most of the day as the Ramada Plaza raid took place and forensic scientists examined the Duroy Hotel.

At the King's Suites Hotel, which is opposite Ramada Plaza and right next to the Duroy, a family of four was busy checking out despite having only arrived the day before.

Staff at the King's Suites Hotel declined to comment on whether or not they had been raided as part of the security sweep of the area, as did those at a nearby branch of the popular Rotana hotel chain, Raouche Arjaan.


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