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Lone attacker kills four in Lebanese city

Updated June 05, 2019

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Tripoli: Lebanese forces inspect the building where the militant attacked a patrol and blew himself when confronted in this northern port city on Tuesday. — AFP
Tripoli: Lebanese forces inspect the building where the militant attacked a patrol and blew himself when confronted in this northern port city on Tuesday. — AFP

TRIPOLI: Military police and forensics in white overalls deployed in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Tuesday after a lone gunman went on an overnight shooting spree, killing four security personnel before blowing himself up in an apartment in a residential building.

The rare shooting, in which the gunman used a motorcycle to move around, opening fire on police and army vehicles, shook the predominantly Sunni Muslim coastal city on the eve of the Eidul Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Ramazan.

Interior Minister Raya El Hassan told reporters that the gunman, identified as Abdul-Rahman Mabsout, is a former member of the militant Islamic State group and now a “lone wolf.” She said the situation was under control.

The shooting began late on Monday with Mabsout first firing at a branch of the Lebanese Central Bank, then driving around, shooting at police and later at an army vehicle, killing four.

With police in hot pursuit, opening fire and using tear gas, Mabsout then drove to a residential building, where he shot his way up the stairs and into an empty apartment on the fourth floor and barricaded himself inside.

An hours-long standoff ensued, culminating with security forces storming the apartment. Cornered, Mabsout detonated his explosives vest, killing himself instantly.

On Tuesday, there were multiple signs of battle. At least four civilian cars and one police car were heavily damaged, their windshields smashed and pocked by bullet holes.

Military police and forensics removed bullets from the street. Tear gas canisters were still on the ground.

The nine-floor apartment building where Mabsout died was shell pocked and the apartment itself partially destroyed.

The owner of the apartment said he and his family were not in the house when the gunman stormed the building, but that his flat was left largely destroyed by the explosion. He said the attacker entered his building after shooting one person in the street.

“Thank God there was nobody in the house, and my door is not made of steel, it is a wooden door so I think he broke the door and he walked in,” Kamal Ferri said. Mabsout is a former member of the IS group who fought with the extremist movement in Syria. He had been detained when he returned to Lebanon in 2016 and was released a year later.

The Lebanese army announced earlier that it has increased security around the country because of the holiday, when people go out to celebrate.

Tripoli, which is Lebanon’s second largest city, has in the past seen clashes between rival groups that support or oppose the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad. The city is also home to some extremists who fought against the Lebanese army in the past.

The militant Islamic State group and Al Qaeda-linked militants have claimed responsibility over the past years for attacks in different parts of Lebanon that killed dozens of people. Such attacks have been rare recently.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2019