When NOW asked the hotel manager about how his hotel was raided three times by three different Lebanese security agencies in the same night, he seemed uncomfortable. The hotel he works for is located in Raouche, the same area where a suicide bomber blew himself up in his hotel room Wednesday evening when he realized a security team was raiding the establishment.
The manager preferred to speak anonymously because he didn’t want trouble with the police. “They’re all over us as it is,” he said. “They came three times on Wednesday night after the explosion at Hotel Duroy. Once the ISF [Internal Security Forces], once the General Security, and another time the military intelligence, I think. They all checked the passports of the guests. They didn’t find anything and they left. In other hotels I heard they actually detained some guests,” he explained.
The explosion was bad news for business, the hotel manager told NOW. “We never expected anything like this to happen here,” he said. “We were convinced this was a safe area.” But the way the security forces are handling the situation has made things even worse: “They’re scaring people more than they’re reassuring them. Some guests felt harassed. They didn’t understand why their passports had to be checked three times. It was all very chaotic,” the manager complained.
Most politicians, especially government members, applauded the Lebanese security forces for averting bigger terrorist attacks, sometimes by sacrificing their own security and even their lives. Interior Minister Nohad al-Mashnouq described the raid on the Hotel Duroy as a "preventative strike" by authorities. "The suicide bomber was going to detonate himself elsewhere and they managed to stop him," he said.
Multiple officers of the security forces have averted other tragedies. A police officer died and several others were wounded on June 20 when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Dahr al-Baydar ISF checkpoint in the Beqaa Valley. A few days later, a General Security officer in Tayyouneh noticed a suspicious car and stopped it from entering a densely-populated area. It cost him his life: the car exploded while he was asking for the driver’s papers. Then, on June 25, General Security officers who raided Hotel Duroy were wounded in the explosion.
But the security procedures that followed the three explosions did not have the expected effect of reassuring Lebanese civilians. After the Dahr al-Baydar explosion on June 20, Beirut was brought to a standstill: all entrances were closed, and checkpoints were installed by different security agencies on all the main roads. A raid by the Internal Security Forces on Beirut’s Hamra neighborhood, in the wake of the threat of a terrorist attack targeting an Amal Movement meeting at the UNESCO Palace, led to the detention of 17 Tunisians who were in town for a conference. Over 100 people were randomly arrested after the explosion, but only one remained in custody.
Raouche became a fortress in the days following the explosion at the Hotel Duroy, while the ISF and General Security competed in hotel raids and checking guest documents in the hunt for suspected terrorists. At the same time, the Lebanese Army surrounded a small Palestinian refugee camp largely inhabited by Palestinian Catholics.
In combating terrorism, defense analyst and retired LAF General Wehbe Katisha argued, the Lebanese Army Intelligence Directorate, the General Directorate of General Security, and the Internal Security Forces “should cooperate and compete at the same time. If one security agency has certain information, it is obliged to share it with the other agencies,” he told NOW.
The division of jurisdiction between the three agencies should also be clear, Katisha said. General Security handles issues related to foreigners in Lebanon, he explained; meanwhile, the Army Intelligence Directorate investigates crimes related to the military regardless of whether they involve Lebanese or foreigners, and the ISF Information Branch deals with internal problems. Moreover, Katisha stressed, “a strategy [to combat terrorism] should be set by the government. The security forces should have a technical strategy.”
But in the past week it has been unclear which security agency has handled what investigation. The degree of cooperation between them is a mystery, and the manner in which they have dealt with civilians in the course of their investigations has raised additional concerns.
Future bloc MP Mouin Merhebi told NOW he was angry with security forces for their lack of discretion and for tipping off the suicide bombers at the Hotel Duroy. Describing their actions in Hamra and Raouche as “looking for a media show,” he also accused security agencies’ behavior of being politically motivated: the officers in charge of the various agencies in the Lebanese security apparatus are in a state of constant competition, he said.
“Security forces are showing off with a big number of cars in convoys – this happened last week and [Wednesday] as well. This is not professional, and this is what led to the failure of the operation [at the Hotel Duroy]. Each agency is trying to be a media star showing off its great achievements,” Merhebi bemoaned. “Procedures for security reasons should be done in a certain way that doesn’t harm civilians.”
“They shouldn’t show off and arrest 100 people and then keep only one in detention,” he concluded.