Friday, January 18, 2008

FBI team arrives to aid in probe of Karantina blast site

FBI team arrives to aid in probe of Karantina blast site
Capital remains on high alert following attack

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: A US team of forensic and counterterrorism experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) inspected Thursday morning the site of Tuesday's car bomb blast in Karantina which targeted a US Embassy vehicle, the first such attack aimed at a US diplomatic mission in Lebanon since the end of the 1975-90 Civil War. Four FBI counterterrorism experts, who have examined other similar bomb sites in Lebanon, arrived in Beirut late Wednesday night to join local investigators in helping to recover vital evidence. Authorities cordoned off the blast site located in an industrial zone along the sea route, a road parallel to the main Dora/Karantina highway. The blast killed three bystanders and wounded 25 others. A giant white tent was placed over the scene to preserve evidence and security teams worked to remove water that had seeped into the crater created by the blast. "The technical expertise of the US team will allow for recovery of possible DNA evidence belonging to the perpetrators," a security source told The Daily Star Thursday.

The source said the US team have asked permission to conduct a "technical survey" of the blast site for the next three days after which they will prepare a report on their findings and presenting a copy to State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza. FBI investigators joined Lebanese investigative teams in the search for evidence at the site. Associated Press Television showed at least three people, presumed to be US investigators, some in white overalls and others dressed in blue, collecting evidence from the wreckage of several vehicles damaged in Tuesday's blast. On Thursday Mirza met with Andrea Belmar, the new head of the International Independent Investigative Commission investigating the slaying of former Premier Rafik Hariri and other political assassinations. Meanwhile, security forces in Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon have been placed on the highest level of alert before state of emergency, a security source said, adding that stringent security measures have been taken including foot and mobile patrols and mobile checkpoints set up around the capital. In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack had said that a joint team of agents from the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the FBI would travel from Washington to Lebanon on Wednesday to investigate the incident.

The embassy, located 13 kilometers from the explosion site, told Americans Wednesday to avoid popular public places in case of further attacks, and departing US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman canceled a meeting and dinner in Beirut. The embassy advisory on Wednesday reminded all Americans in Lebanon "to maintain a high level of vigilance, especially when planning travel." It added: "Americans are also advised to avoid popular gathering spots." The bombing Tuesday occurred shortly before the embassy was to hold a farewell reception in a Beirut hotel for Feltman. But Feltman made a farewell visit to Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday according to the NNA. - With Agencies

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