Suspect arrested in murder of British diplomat in Beirut

Rebecca Dykes, a British woman employed at the UK embassy in Lebanon, who has been found murdered, a senior official said on Dec. 17, 2017. (File photo/AFP)
Updated 18 December 2017
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Suspect arrested in murder of British diplomat in Beirut

BEIRUT: The information department of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) has arrested a male suspected of killing British Embassy employee, Rebecca Dykes.
The arrest took place within 48 hours of Dykes’ body being found by the side of a highway in Mount Lebanon early on Saturday.
The suspect, a taxi driver for Uber, reportedly picked Dykes up at midnight on Friday from the Gemmayze district of Beirut, where she had been having dinner with friends.
The suspect has been named as Tariq H., a native of Beirut, born in 1988.
“Dykes was used to requesting Uber’s services,” a security source told Arab News. “The driver she called on the night of the tragedy was supposed to drive her to her house in Ashrafieh, which was only a few minutes from where she was dining, but instead, he took her to an area between Dekwaneh and Nabaa, where he parked his car and (sexually assaulted) her.
“He then strangled her and took her body to the Metn expressway to conceal his crime, and he dumped her belongings in a waste dump,” he said.
The security source explained that the ISF information department tracked the suspect through Dykes’ mobile phone, which showed that the last call she made was to Uber, and revealed the driver’s name and photo.
“The suspect’s car was also captured on roadway surveillance cameras,” the source said.
Security forces arrested the suspect in an underground hideout in the Ashrafieh district in Beirut.
According to the same security source, “the suspect has a history of drug abuse.”
Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk called the British Ambassador to Lebanon, Hugo Shorter, and offered his condolences.
Machnouk said the suspect’s motive was purely criminal, not political. He personally followed up on the matter with ISF Director-General Maj. Gen. Imad Othman, who called President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri to brief them on the outcome of the investigation.
UK Ambassador Shorter visited Othman in the General Security Directorate and hailed the efforts of the information department and the speed with which the suspect was arrested.
On Sunday night, Shorter issued a statement saying how shocked and saddened the entire staff of the embassy was by Dykes’ death.
Her family said in a statement: “We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Rebecca. We are doing all we can to understand what happened. We request that the media respect our privacy.”


US, allies set to evacuate Syrian aid workers from southwest

Updated 20 July 2018
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US, allies set to evacuate Syrian aid workers from southwest

  • US officials say the United States is finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria
  • Two officials familiar with the plans said Thursday that the US, Britain and Canada are spearheading the evacuation that would transport members of the White Helmets group to transit camps

WASHINGTON: US officials say the United States is finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces close in on the area.
Two officials familiar with the plans said Thursday that the US, Britain and Canada are spearheading the evacuation that would transport members of the White Helmets group to transit camps in neighboring countries. From there, they will be sent to third countries, including Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and possibly Canada, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
The officials, and a member of the White Helmets who is due to be evacuated from Quneitra province, said the operation appears to be imminent as the Syrian army continues to gain ground in its latest offensive. The White Helmets, who have enjoyed backing from the US and other Western nations for years, are likely to be targeted by Syrian forces as they retake control of the southwest, according to the officials.
The officials said planning for the evacuation has been taking place for some time but accelerated after last week’s NATO summit in Brussels.
“These are hard hours and minutes,” the White Helmets volunteer in Quneitra said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear for his life. “This is the worst day of my life. I hope they rescue us before it is too late.”
The evacuation is expected to take place from Quneitra, which straddles the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and where the civil defense team is trapped. It is the last sliver of land still outside government control in the region.
Since the government offensive began in June, the area along the frontier with the Golan Heights has been the safest in the southwestern region, attracting hundreds of displaced people because is along the disengagement line with Israel demarcated in 1974 after a war. The Syrian government is unlikely to fire there or carry out airstrikes.
Negotiations are also ongoing to evacuate armed rebels and their families who don’t want to accept the return of the rule of Bashar Assad’s government to Quneitra, which the rebels have controlled for years. The fighters will be evacuated to the northern part of Syria, where the opposition still holds sway.
Except for that sliver of land, the southern tip of the southwestern region lies along the border with Jordan and the Golan Heights and is occupied by a Daesh-affiliated group. The area is expected to be the target of the next government advances and the civil defense teams don’t operate there.
The White Helmets are not without controversy. They only operate in opposition-held areas, where government services are almost non-existent and aerial bombings are recurrent. Syrian government supporters accuse them of being politically affiliated with the rebel groups. Russia and the Syrian government have repeatedly accused them of staging chemical attacks in opposition areas, a charge that has never been proven.
They have continued to receive US support even as President Donald Trump presses ahead with his plans to withdraw all American forces from Syria as soon as Islamic State forces are routed.
In June, the State Department freed up a small portion — $6.6 million out of some $200 million — in frozen funding for Syria stabilization programs to keep the White Helmets operating through the end of this year.
In other parts of Syria, where government control has been restored, civil defense volunteers have almost always evacuated to other opposition-controlled areas. It is not clear why this time they will be evacuated out of the country.