Lebanon News

Special measures taken to protect diplomatic missions

The ISF has stepped up security around the Saudi Embassy in Qoreitem since last week’s bombings. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT: The Internal Security Forces has taken special security measures to protect diplomatic missions, as requested by the Foreign Ministry, following last week’s deadly bombings targeting the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, sources familiar with the issue told The Daily Star.The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday, said that the Foreign Ministry asked the Interior Ministry Friday to beef up security measures around embassies across the country and that the demand was met immediately.

For his part, an Army source said military personnel were assisting the ISF and General Security in their efforts to protect embassies.

At least 25 people were killed and over 150 wounded in twin suicide bombings that targeted the Iranian Embassy in the Beirut neighborhood of Bir Hasan. Among the dead is the embassy’s cultural attaché. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Additional security measures could be seen around the Saudi Embassy in the Qoreitem neighborhood of Beirut Sunday. A makeshift wall made of concrete blocks topped with rolls of razor wire appeared outside the embassy as of last week. The barricade effectively bisects the street and blocks a lane of traffic. A group of armed soldiers sitting in a jeep across the street from the embassy said they had been assigned the post in the wake of last week’s bombing.

A piecemeal maze of concrete blocks, chains and posts outside the Russian Embassy in the capital’s Corniche al-Mazraa neighborhood were also installed last week, a resident said. The road in front of the embassy is closed to traffic, and side streets are dotted with concrete barriers.

A cashier at a small market down the block from the embassy said that after the bombing last week, authorities demanded security camera footage from several shops in the neighborhood.

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri denied, in comments published Saturday, that his embassy had been threatened.

Asiri told Saudi newspaper Okaz that Riyadh’s embassy in Beirut had not received threats and stressed that the kingdom regarded Lebanon as a brotherly state.

The envoy, currently outside Lebanon, thanked the country’s political leadership, who he said had contacted the embassy to stress its commitment to protecting the mission.

He added that the security of diplomatic corps was the responsibility of the host country.

Asiri said he was in Saudi Arabia for work, adding that he was due to return to Lebanon in the near future and that “whether we are in the kingdom or Lebanon, the work of the embassy continues.”

For his part, the cultural attaché to the Saudi Embassy in Lebanon, Musaed Jarrah, said in comments to Okaz that measures had been taken to ensure the safety of Saudi students in the country.

He said there was no decision at present to evacuate the students given that exams were ongoing and “evacuating them so suddenly would impact negatively on their academic careers.”

On Thursday, the embassy urged Saudi nationals in Lebanon to leave the country.

In the event of another security incident, Jarrah said, the embassy was prepared to evacuate Saudi students from Lebanon so that they can continue their studies.

Meanwhile, a source close to Speaker Nabih Berri said the speaker had already taken strict security measures.

“Speaker Berri is taking security measures just like any other politician in the country,” he said. “You can see the measures already taken around the Parliament and the speaker’s Ain al-Tineh residence.”

Berri said, in remarks last week, that those responsible for the suicide bombings outside the Iranian Embassy were the same who threatened to kill him and other Lebanese officials.

“Those who targeted the embassy are from the same group that threatened to kill me, Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Beshara Rai and Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi,” the speaker said.

In May 2012, Berri revealed that he and other Lebanese officials were among a list of key figures being targeted by extremist groups.

The speaker rarely leaves his residence publicly, and very tight security measures are taken around his residence in Beirut.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 25, 2013, on page 3.

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