BEIRUT: The swift identification of the suicide bombers who attacked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut last week is an indication of a significant improvement in the capabilities of security agencies in Lebanon, military experts said Tuesday.
Speaking to The Daily Star, retired Army Gen. Nizar Abdel-Qader said security agencies in the country had grown much more capable following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and were provided with forensics labs and experts.
“Investigations carried out by the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission represented a school for Lebanese security agencies in terms of collecting evidence from the crime scene and investigating them correctly,” Abdel-Qader explained.
The UNIIIC and later the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigated the assassination of Hariri and a series of killings that followed.
Within a few days of the attack on the Iranian Embassy in the Bir Hasan neighborhood of the capital, security agencies were able to uncover the identities of the suicide bombers and are currently trying to identify the party behind the two perpetrators.
One of the bombers was identified as Lebanese Mouin Abu Dahr, who hails from Sidon. The second is Adnan Mousa Mohammad, a Palestinian from the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp on the outskirts of Sidon.
The attack killed 29 people and wounded over 150 others. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the operation.
Retired Army Gen. Hisham Jaber agreed with Abdel-Qader, saying the fact that authorities were able to identify the suicide bombers with such speed indicated they were highly qualified.
“Security agencies in Lebanon are highly capable and qualified despite limited resources,” Jaber said.
But Jaber said the performance of security agencies could become much better if a joint operations room were established, allowing a quicker exchange of information:
“This will prevent terrorist attacks from happening or uncover those involved in them if they happened.”
Abdel-Qader, however, argued that the swift identification of the bombers indicated the crime was not highly professional like previous attacks in Lebanon that left no traces:
“I believe some concrete evidence present in the crime scene helped a lot in directing investigators toward the perpetrators and with maximum speed.”
He explained that investigators found in one of the bomber’s pockets the keycard to the hotel room in Beirut where the two bombers spent their last night before carrying out the attack. This helped identify the two attackers, according to Abdel-Qader.
“There is no doubt that these are not professionals. ... The way the operation was carried out indicates it was an amateurish act rather than that of terrorist professionals,” he said.
“They spent their night at a hotel in the city where they kept their luggage. But a terrorist usually does not leave such traces,” he said. “I don’t believe that means to conceal the traces of the crime were studied properly.”
Abdel-Qader did not agree that investigators worked on this case quicker than on previous crimes and assassinations that rocked the country following Hariri’s assassination.
“In the previous crimes, there was no evidence that helped in the identification of the perpetrators. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was a well-planned conspiracy that left no signs,” Abdel-Qader said.
Jaber disagreed, saying the attack on the Iranian Embassy was “a very professional and well-planned crime.”
He said that just like this crime, authorities had reached results in probes into previous assassinations but refrained from announcing them in order to preserve state interests.
“Security agencies have worked hard and gathered much information on the assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan. A foreign team took part in the probe and the judiciary began investigating the case immediately,” Jaber said. “Now why the results of the probe were not announced, I believe this has to do with the high interests of the state.”
Hasan, who headed the Internal Security Forces Information Branch, was killed in a car bomb attack in the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh in October 2012.
Jaber said that in many cases, the results of probes into terrorist crimes were sometimes not announced.
“If announcing the results of investigation is harmful, then the state prefers not to make the announcement. This happens everywhere in the world,” Jaber explained.
Abdel-Qader expected major obstacles to emerge as security forces tried to determine who was behind the attack.
“This is much more difficult because there is nothing helping authorities to figure out if the suicide bombers called anybody [before the attack]. I believe the upcoming phase of investigations will be difficult,” Abdel-Qader said.
Jaber said investigators might determine who stood behind the attack but not reveal it to public in order to prevent strife: “What if they found that Lebanese figures provided support for these groups?”
A judicial source who requested to remain anonymous said the capabilities of security agencies had considerably improved following Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon in April 2005.
“They are doing much better now in terms of intercepting phone calls and analyzing telecommunications data,” he said.
The source said those involved in the two car bomb attacks that targeted two Tripoli mosques in August were identified and some of them arrested with considerable speed.
In October, Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr charged seven suspects over the Tripoli bombings that killed 47 people and wounded scores more. Three were arrested while the others remain at large.
The source added that the fact that CCTV cameras were abundant in Bir Hasan had helped security bodies identify the suicide bombers.