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Syrian attacked US embassy in Beirut 'in support of Gaza': judicial official

Wednesday, 5 June, 2024 , 20:26

Beirut, June 5, 2024 (AFP) — A Syrian man was arrested after a shooting near the US embassy in Beirut on Wednesday and a judicial official said the assailant carried out the attack "in support of Gaza".

The embassy in the capital's northern suburb of Awkar "was subjected to gunfire by a person holding Syrian nationality", the army said on social media platform X.

"Army personnel deployed in the area responded to the sources of fire, wounding the shooter," the statement said, adding that "he was arrested and transported to hospital".

The US embassy said on X that "small arms fire was reported in the vicinity of the entrance" and that "thanks to the quick reaction" of the Lebanese army, security forces "and our embassy security team, our facility and our team are safe".

The judicial official told AFP that the assailant, who was seriously wounded, said he carried out the attack "in support of Gaza", where Israel and Hamas have been at war since the Palestinian militant group's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel.

A security official told AFP that a Lebanese national working for the embassy suffered light injuries to his eye after the assailant opened fire.

The gunman, who lived in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, carried out the attack "alone", added the official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

The Lebanese army later said in a statement that it had arrested five suspects in the case in the Bekaa region, including three relatives of the alleged shooter.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said it was aware the person arrested appeared to be wearing "ISIS insignia", referring to the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

The United States, he said, was "conducting a full investigation with the Lebanese authorities into the actual motivations".

- Investigation underway -

Images said to be of the bloodied attacker wearing a waistcoat that read "the caliphate" spread on social media. AFP was unable to immediately verify their authenticity.

The self-declared IS caliphate, established in 2014, spanned large parts of Syria and Iraq. The jihadist group was defeated in 2019 by international and Kurdish forces.

An AFP photographer said access to the area around the diplomatic mission was blocked off, with soldiers deployed heavily nearby.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati spoke with army and security service officials who assured him "the situation is under control", a statement from his office said.

"An investigation is underway to determine the circumstances of the incident and arrest all those involved," the statement said, adding that US ambassador Lisa Johnson was currently outside Lebanon.

The US embassy said it would remain closed to the public for the rest of the day "but plans to be open for general business as usual" on Thursday.

In September last year, a gunman opened fire at the US embassy without causing any casualties.

Lebanese police alleged the shooter was a delivery driver seeking revenge for his perceived humiliation by security personnel.

That shooting coincided with the anniversary of a deadly 1984 car bombing outside the US embassy annexe in Beirut, which the United States blamed on Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah.

US diplomatic and military missions in Lebanon were attacked on a number of occasions during the 1975-1990 civil war, when hardline Islamists also took several US hostages.

The embassy relocated to Awkar after it was hit by an April 1983 suicide bombing that killed 63 people.