Inquest into death of UK Embassy worker in Lebanon hears she was murdered by Uber driver

Inquest into death of UK Embassy worker in Lebanon hears she was murdered by Uber driver
The Mount Lebanon criminal court had sentenced Tariq Samer Howeish to death for the rape and murder of the young British woman. (AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2022

Inquest into death of UK Embassy worker in Lebanon hears she was murdered by Uber driver

Inquest into death of UK Embassy worker in Lebanon hears she was murdered by Uber driver
  • Rebecca Dykes was raped, strangled by Tariq Houshieh, who is appealing his death sentence
  • Inquest told that security culture at embassy was strong but employees frequently flouted taxi advice

LONDON: An inquest into the death of a British Embassy worker in Beirut in 2017 has heard that she was raped and murdered by an Uber driver after a night out with friends, the Daily Mail reported on Friday.

Rebecca Dykes, 30, had been in Lebanon helping Syrian refugees when she was attacked before heading home for Christmas.

She was strangled to death by Uber driver Tariq Houshieh, who left her body by the side of a road.

It was discovered on Dec. 16, and Houshieh was tracked down by police using CCTV footage.

He was sentenced to death in 2019 by the Criminal Court of Mount Lebanon for his “premeditated and deliberate” crimes, but is appealing his sentence. Lebanon has not carried out an execution since 2004, according to Human Rights Watch.

Houshieh had a criminal record for alleged harassment and theft before the attack, according to Agence France-Presse.

Uber said at the time of Dykes’ death that it was “horrified by this senseless act of violence,” while the Lebanese government advised people to avoid using the ride-hailing app.

The inquest into her death opened in London this week, and heard that embassy staff had been told to use just three pre-approved taxi firms for security reasons, but that many frequently ignored the advice on account of brand familiarity with Uber, and waiting times with other companies.

Andrew Harrison, coroner at the Inner South London Coroner’s Court in the borough of Southwark, was told by embassy security officer Alyson King: “It came to light afterwards, many staff were using other taxi companies when they found them convenient.”

She said all embassy staff were given safety and security briefings on arrival in Beirut, including specific women-only meetings.

When asked by Harrison, she added that she felt the level of security briefings provided to staff were adequate for the situation they found themselves in.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s head of security, Bharat Joshi, said many staff at the embassy chose not to follow the taxi guidelines, but in general, the embassy was found to have had a “very, very strong” security culture in the aftermath of Dykes’ murder. There had “never been a serious incident” before involving Uber in Lebanon, Joshi added.

Members of Dykes’ family also addressed the inquiry, where she was described as having “improved the lives of countless refugees and vulnerable host communities.”

Her mother Jane Houng said via video link that she hoped “no parent has to go through what we have.”

She added: “One thing that pained me very much was that now embassy staff wear personal alarms. I think if Rebecca had been wearing a personal alarm at that point in time, it probably would have saved her life.

“When I went to Lebanon shortly after her death and sat around the table with Rebecca’s friends and colleagues, they all said they used Uber. It was commonplace for personal travel that people used Uber taxis.”

The coroner recorded a verdict of unlawful killing.


Iraq’s finance minister resigns of political crisis

Iraq’s finance minister resigns of political crisis
Updated 8 sec ago

Iraq’s finance minister resigns of political crisis

Iraq’s finance minister resigns of political crisis
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s finance minister resigned Tuesday, two government officials said, over the country’s worst political crisis in years involving an influential Shiite cleric and his Iran-aligned rivals.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said Finance Minister Ali Allawi resigned during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday to protest the political conditions. They said Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar will become acting finance minister.
Allawi’s decision came weeks after members of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr’s parliamentary bloc resigned from parliament and his supporters stormed the parliament building in Baghdad. Al-Sadr later demanded that parliament be dissolved and early elections held.
Al-Sadr won the largest share of seats in the election last October but failed to form a majority government that excluded his Iran-aligned rivals.
Al-Sadr’s political rivals in the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Iran-backed parties, said earlier that parliament would have to convene to dissolve itself. They called the Al-Sadr supporters’ storming of parliament a “coup” and have held demonstrations in support of the government.
Iraq’s political impasse, now in its 10th month, is the longest in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion reset the political order.

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 
Updated 27 min 11 sec ago

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 
  • Lebanon’s Attorney General released the man after the bank dropped the lawsuit against him, Al Arabiya TV reported

Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein, the Lebanese man who was hailed a hero for taking hostages at gunpoint in a Beirut bank while demanding the release of his frozen funds to pay for his father’s medical treatment, has been released, according to TV news channel Al Arabiya. 

Lebanon’s Attorney General released the man after the bank dropped the lawsuit against him, Al Arabiya TV reported on Tuesday. 

Details on charges against him have yet to be released. 

Crowds gathered outside the bank to show their support for Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein. (File/AFP) 

The man – who held eight employees hostage inside the Federal Bank branch in the capital city – was arrested on Thursday, Aug. 11, after a seven-hour standoff, despite the promise that he would be allowed to walk free. 

The 42-year-old surrendered after authorities told his family he would be given $35,000 of his money and would only be held for questioning. The Lebanese central bank had imposed a freeze on all deposits in 2019. 

According to media reports at the time, Al-Sheikh Hussein had been armed with a pump-action shotgun and gasoline, which he said he would use to set himself alight. 

Crowds gathered outside the bank on Thursday to show their support and applauded the man as authorities took him into custody. 
 


Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court
Updated 29 min 59 sec ago

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court
  • Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention
  • Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention

JERUSALEM: The lawyer for a Palestinian prisoner said Tuesday that his client will appeal his case to Israel’s Supreme Court as he continues what his family says is a 165-day hunger strike against his detention.
Also Tuesday, an Israeli military court extended the sentence for a second Palestinian prisoner by six days.
The release of both men — hunger striker Khalil Awawdeh and Bassam Al-Saadi, a West Bank Islamic Jihad leader — was among the demands of the Islamic Jihad militant group for a cease-fire to last week’s intense fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention. Ahlam Haddad, Awawdeh’s lawyer, said her client’s health is deteriorating and that they asked that he be released. An Israeli military court on Monday rejected an appeal.
“Justice was not done with that man,” Haddad said. “We turn to ... the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, in order maybe to get the relief requested, which is his release from administrative detention.”
Awawdeh, a 40-year-old father of four, is one of several Palestinian prisoners who have gone on prolonged hunger strikes over the years to protest administrative detention. Israel says the policy helps keep dangerous militants off the streets and allows the government to hold suspects without divulging sensitive intelligence. Critics say the policy denies prisoners due process.
Israel says Awawdeh is a militant, an allegation he has denied through his lawyer.
The Islamic Jihad militant group demanded his release as part of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ending three days of heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip earlier this month but did not identify him as its member. Israel arrested Al-Saadi in the days leading up to the Gaza flare-up.
Haddad said her client has not eaten during the strike, except for a 10-day period in which he received vitamin injections, according to his family. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service has not commented on his case.
Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinian prisoners, including militants who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones. Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, a number that jumped in March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis.
Israel says it provides due process and largely imprisons those who threaten its security, though a small number are held for petty crimes.
Palestinians and human rights groups say the system is designed to quash opposition to Israel’s 55-year military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state, which shows no sign of ending.


Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued
Updated 33 min 27 sec ago

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued
  • The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon
  • The Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon

CONCORD, New Hampshire: A judge on Monday denied a family’s attempt to sue Lebanon on allegations that the country’s security agency kidnapped and tortured their family member before he died in the US, and that the agency could not intervene in the case.
Amer Fakhoury, a Lebanese American man, died in the US in August 2020 at age 57 from stage 4 lymphoma. His family’s lawsuit, filed in Washington last year against Iran, says he developed the illness and other serious medical issues while imprisoned during a visit to Lebanon over decades-old murder and torture charges that he denied.
The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon.
Fakhoury’s detention in 2019 and release in 2020 marked another strain in relations between the United States and Lebanon, which finds itself beset by one of the world’s worst economic disasters and squeezed by tensions between Washington and Iran.
Lawyers representing Lebanon’s security agency, the General Directorate of General Security, had first asked to intervene in the Fakhoury family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Iran to have the allegations against Lebanon stricken. That request also was denied by US District Judge John Bates in his order Monday.
The Lebanese security agency had claimed the lawsuit falsely accuses it and its director of “serious crimes of kidnapping, torture and killing at the direction or aid of alleged terrorist organizations.”
In turn, the Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon.
The family’s lawsuit initially argued it was possible to sue Iran under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, as it has been designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism” since 1984. The suit also described Hezbollah, now both a dominant political and militant force in Lebanon, as an “instrument” of Iran.
Tolchin had said the Fakhourys interpreted the Lebanon security agency’s request to intervene as a wavier of sovereign immunity. An attorney for the agency denied that, and the judge agreed.
Bates wrote that there is “insufficient evidence for the court to conclude” that the agency intended to waive its sovereign immunity.
Bates also wrote that the allegations about Fakhoury’s detention in Lebanon that the security agency wishes to strike “are central to this lawsuit.”
Messages seeking comment were sent to the lawyers.
Iran has yet to respond to the lawsuit. It has ignored others filed against it in American courts in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and US Embassy hostage crisis.
Fakhoury’s imprisonment in Lebanon took place in September 2019, not long after he became an American citizen. Fakhoury, a restaurateur in New Hampshire, visited his home country on vacation for the first time in nearly 20 years. A week after he arrived, he was jailed and his passport was seized, his family has said.
The day before he was taken into custody, a newspaper close to the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah published a story accusing him of playing a role in the torture and killing of inmates at a prison run by an Israeli-backed Lebanese militia during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon two decades ago. Fakhoury was a member of the South Lebanon Army.
The article dubbed him the “butcher” of the Khiam Detention Center, which was notorious for human rights abuses. Fakhoury’s family said he had worked at the prison as a member of the militia, but that he was a clerk who had little contact with inmates. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Fakhoury left the country like many other militia members who feared reprisals. He arrived in the US in 2001.
As early as 2018, Fakhoury had sought assurances from the US State Department and the Lebanese government that he could visit Lebanon freely. His family said he was told there were no accusations against him in Lebanon or no legal matters that might interfere with his return.
Upon his return to Lebanon, Fakhoury was held for five months before he was formally charged, his family said. By then, he had dropped more than 60 pounds, was suffering from lymphoma, and had rib fractures, among other serious health problems, they said.
Eventually, the Lebanese Supreme Court dropped the charges against Fakhoury. He was returned to the United States on March 19, 2020, on a US Marine Corps Osprey aircraft. He died five months later.


Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks
Updated 16 August 2022

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks
  • The Bahamas is among the nations forecast to be hit hardest by rising sea levels due to climate change

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry held a video conference call with the Bahamas’ Prime Minister Philip Davis on the occasion of the latter hosting a Caribbean meeting on climate change.

They discussed issues of common interest, including Egypt’s hosting of the 27th UN Climate Change Conference in November.

Shoukry discussed Egypt’s preparations for the conference, the most prominent topics on the agenda, and its desire to enhance international climate action.

Davis gave Shoukry the perspective of island nations on climate change and its consequences.

The Bahamas is among the nations forecast to be hit hardest by rising sea levels due to climate change.

Davis said 15 percent of his country’s gross domestic product is threatened by climate change, and 11 percent of Bahamians are threatened by rising sea levels, Reuters reported.