Backpack bomber stopped from entering U.S. embassy in Beirut

Thursday, December 11, 2003

The American embassy in Beirut has stopped an attempted bombing by insurgents trying to enter the U.S. compound.

U.S. embassy security officers captured a Lebanese national who tried to enter the grounds with a package of dynamite in his backpack. A suspected Palestinian accomplice was also arrested in Wednesday's incident.

The two suspected insurgents made it through the first checkpoint at the entrance to the embassy, a Lebanese security source said. At the second checkpoint, the knapsack was placed through the metal detector, which began to beep. The source said embassy guards immediately seized the knapsack and threw it outside the embassy compound.

Last week, the State Department warned Americans of the prospect of an insurgency attack in Lebanon, Middle East Newsline reported. The department urged Americans to maintain a low profile and avoid Palestinian refugee camps.

Embassy security personnel deemed the Lebanese man suspicious and placed him into custody. The security officers then found that he was carrying sticks of dynamite in a knapsack.

"The package was found to contain explosive material," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "It was deactivated without incident. Two persons have been taken into custody by the Lebanese armed forces in connection with this incident and are being questioned."

Western diplomatic sources said the embassy has been on alert for an insurgency attack. The embassy, which contains about 500 staffers and their dependents, is located 15 kilometers north of Beirut.

The Lebanese, identified as Abed Mreish, and a Palestinian taxi driver were turned over to the Lebanese military for further investigation. The sources said about 1.5 kilograms of explosives were confiscated.

"At the gate of the U.S. embassy in Awkar," a Lebanese military statement said, "army forces arrested a Lebanese man and a Palestinian accompanying him as they tried to bring a bomb into the embassy complex. Their investigations have begun and an effort continues to arrest all those involved and bring them to justice."

Earlier this year, Lebanese authorities arrested about 50 people suspected of being part of an Al Qaida-aligned network to strike U.S. and Western interests in Lebanon. The ring was said to have targeted the U.S. embassy as well as American and British restaurant franchises.

Along the Israeli-Lebanese border, Israel's military found a series of bombs in the western sector. Israeli military sources said the bombs resembled those found in November in a nearby area.

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