Lebanon News

Bodyguards fetch groceries as crisis roils

Security personnel assigned as bodyguards for officials tend to be less exposed to risk than their counterparts who take part in patrols in dangerous areas.

BEIRUT: With security incidents on the rise in volatile districts across country, the Lebanese Army and the Internal Security Forces are facing additional challenges which might require certain officials to forgo some of their bodyguards.

After finalizing a security deployment in Beirut’s southern suburbs last month in the wake of two car bombings that targeted the area, a similar plan will be implemented in Tripoli, which has also seen such attacks.

But while there is a demand for additional security personnel, many ISF bodyguards are handling tasks that have little to do with their job description.

Over 2,700 ISF members are assigned as “extra” security personnel to protect current and former MPs, ministers, judges, officers, members of media, muftis and other officials.

However, as caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told The Daily Star Tuesday, “95 percent of them work as housekeepers.”

“They buy fruits and vegetables for their employers and drive the kids to school,” Charbel added.

The caretaker minister said that many ISF personnel tried very hard to qualify to become extra bodyguards. “This job makes them feel comfortable.”

The protection of politicians and figures is supposed to be the sole mission of State Security. Every MP is entitled to four State Security personnel who serve as bodyguards.

“There is nothing in the Internal Security Forces law stating that its members should protect figures,” Charbel said.

But after a wave of political assassinations that rocked the country following the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, many MPs and politicians demanded ISF personnel serve them as extra bodyguards.

Charbel said that some figures continued to have extra ISF bodyguards even though they were living abroad.

Confirming Charbel’s remarks was a member of Parliament’s police who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity.

He said that while he did not work as a bodyguard for any MP, he regularly chatted with ISF bodyguards assigned to lawmakers when they came to the Parliament.

“They say that they handle tasks such as throwing away garbage and driving the wives of MPs to malls and waiting hours for them,” he said.

He added that the members of the ISF he knew preferred this job over others that involve risking their lives or putting themselves in harm’s way.

Getting a response from ISF bodyguards directly, however, was challenging. A security source who requested to remain anonymous said that being an extra bodyguard for a politician or a judge “provides the ISF member with an opportunity to earn extra income and have political connections.”

“This is better than having to carry his weapon and live in the barracks, where he could be woken up at 4 a.m. to join a patrol that might come under fire,” the source said.

In a bid to address this problem, the Central Security Council decided in July to withdraw extra ISF bodyguards, a move that sparked fierce opposition from some March 14 lawmakers who held Charbel responsible for their personal safety.

The council then formed a committee to determine which figures were in need of extra ISF bodyguards. The committee is supposed to finalize its findings by mid-October.

Charbel said that figures found to not need extra protection would be stripped of their additional ISF personnel.

“We are in need of ISF members to preserve security, to protect people. Let them ask the State Security for more bodyguards if they feel unsafe,” he said.

Around 1,000 members of the Army, ISF and General Security were deployed last month in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a stronghold of Hezbollah, replacing checkpoints and patrols manned by the party after two car bomb attacks in July and August killed 30 and wounded hundreds more.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said his party was informed that the government needed some time to secure the force.

Also, a security plan is being laid out for the city of Tripoli, where two car blasts in August left 50 killed and hundreds wounded.

In a bid to relieve the ISF of some of its burdens, Charbel launched a plan in September to provide municipal police with pistols and enable them to monitor their areas.

Charbel explained that additional ISF bodyguards would not offer any additional protection to officials, “whether they number 150 or 550.”

“This only provides psychological relief,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 02, 2013, on page 4.

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