How Beirut's Duroy Hotel was raided

Article Summary
The investigation has led to the detention of several Arab nationals, but most were cleared.

On Saturday, June 14, two Saudi nationals who came to Beirut via Istanbul entered with their luggage to Duroy Hotel in the Raouche neighborhood. The two spoke with the receptionist and asked to book a room for a whole week (a week later, they extended their stay for another week). The receptionist took a copy of their passports and required paperwork, and gave them the keys to Room 307. Ali bin Ibrahim bin Ali al-Thuwaini and Abdul Rahman bin Nasser bin Abdul Rahman al-Shunaifi took their bags and went to the room.

Room 307 was not a regular room. It had a “strategic view.” It overlooks the intersection at the corner of the hotel. The room’s balcony overlooks all the surrounding places. It overlooks Australia Street to the right and left (that street leads to the Ramada Hotel to the left and Future TV to the right); and the room overlooks the road leading to Raouche; and the room’s window overlooks the headquarters of the Saudi Embassy and the uphill road leading to it.

Until now, no one knows the details of how Room 307 was booked. Did the receptionist give the terrorists that room as a coincidence? Or did they specifically ask for that room?

'Please do not disturb'

Whatever the case, the Saudis entered the room on the first day and barely went in or out. Over two days, they kept the “Please Do Not Disturb” sign hanging on the door handle. This raised the ire of the cleaners who, after several days of knocking on the door of Room 307, thought that the guests forgot to remove the sign.

After several tries, one of the two guests opened the door for the cleaning lady and said, “We don’t need to have the room cleaned. It is clean and the matter doesn’t concern us.” Then, the workers complained to the hotel manager that they suspected the Saudis were doing something wrong, especially since the two guests were relatively young. So management asked the cleaning lady to go in and inspect Room 307. (That’s about a week after Shunaifi and Thuwaini booked the room).

The cleaning lady knocked on the door for more than two minutes without getting a response. So she told those inside that she must use the master key to enter the room and inspect it. She opened the door and found the Saudis asleep and the room in good condition.

Thuwaini goes to Napoleon Hotel

After that, the workers no longer paid special attention about the two weird guests in Room 307 on the third floor of Duroy. The two guests stayed in the room and rarely left it. Thuwaini (who later threw the explosive belt) was seen a few times having breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. Shunaifi’s movements were fewer, or so thought the hotel workers. (He is currently detained with the General Directorate of General Security).

A few days after he arrived at the hotel, Shunaifi went to the Hamra neighborhood, entered the Napoleon Hotel and asked to see a guest. But the receptionist told him there’s no guest with that name. Who was that guest? He is a French national, originally from Comoros, who was arrested in the Napoleon Hotel last Friday. Shunaifi was to give the Frenchman $1,000 upon his arrival to Lebanon, but the Saudi’s handlers gave him the Frenchman’s “jihadist name” while the Frenchman booked the room under his real name. That prevented the two from meeting.

Monitoring, then a raid

Shunaifi returned to Duroy without anyone noticing his movements. The hotel workers almost thought that Room 307 was vacant. But then General Security contacted the hotel (about four days before the raid), told the hotel that the two were suspected of plotting terrorist attacks and requested information about the two men and the personal papers that they left at the hotel’s information desk, to make sure of their identities and whether their papers were forged.

Then Duroy managers told [General Security] the details of how hotel workers were prevented from cleaning the room. The security forces asked the hotel to keep an eye open for the two Saudis and to constantly knock on their door or phone them and ask them if needed anything.

The hotel workers did that for four days, but Shunaifi and Thuwaini didn’t answer the room’s phone, nor did they answer the door, and they didn’t leave the room. Hotel management thought that they had left the hotel. But General Security assured the hotel that the Saudis were still in the room and were under careful surveillance and monitoring.

On the fourth day of coordination between the hotel and the security forces (that’s the 12th day since the Saudis checked into the Duroy) General Security determined zero hour [for the raid] after the terrorists received an order to implement a double suicide attack inside al-Saha restaurant on the airport road on the evening of June 27, when the restaurant would be holding an event.

General Security “elite forces” scrambled to raid Duroy in coordination with hotel management. At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, General Security officers and elements arrived at the location and worked to block the streets leading to Raouche in an inconspicuous manner.

On the way to the third floor, a hotel worker accompanied to Room 307 the “investigation force” (which is affiliated with General Security), whose elements wore civilian clothes. They knocked on the door but no one answered. So the hotel worker gave the electronic key to a General Security officer, who knocked on the door again. One of the men inside the room said, “Who is it?” The employee said, “Management.” The Saudi guest said, “Is there someone with you?” The employee responded, “Yes. Security …”

Before he could finish his sentence, Thuwaini threw the explosive belt toward the closed door, wounding the “investigation force” elements and the employee. Everyone rushed to the third floor, where a fire broke out. The “elite forces” intervened (they were behind the investigation elements) and arrested Shunaifi, who tried to flee by jumping off the balcony.

The guests at the hotel’s restaurant, where a birthday party was being held, panicked. The hotel guests quickly tried to leave after the blast. The “back-up forces,” which were standing at the room’s door, had suspicions about two individuals holding Sudanese nationality. One was wearing a hat and the second covered his face with a tissue to not inhale the smoke.

The two Sudanese were taken for investigations and were released after they were shown to be hotel workers who were taking a break in Room 311, which was allocated to foreign workers who stay overnight at the hotel.

The security forces were still surveying the scene of the crime, but General Security “elite forces” quickly returned to the hotel to inquire about Room 606 (on the sixth floor) after Shunaifi admitted that another member of the terrorist cell was staying in that room. After collecting the information, it was learned that the guests in Room 606 are three Syrians: a man, his wife and his young son (no older than three). They booked the room in the morning, on the day of the raid.

General Security officers realized that the Saudi detainee was trying to mislead them and gain time and that there was no link between rooms 303 and 606. But they continued the investigations and surveys after they confirmed that there is a third suspect who holds Lebanese nationality, without knowing whether he was inside the hotel or even went there at all. So they asked the hotel staff to contact the Syrian guest staying in Room 606 to come to Duroy and take his luggage after an explosion happened at the hotel.

The Syrian guest told the hotel workers that he’ll be there in an hour, but he didn’t come. The hotel called him again. He told them that he can’t come to Raouche because his mother is sick and in critical condition, saying “my mother is more important than my things.”

Till then, nothing was known about this guest, while eyewitnesses in the vicinity of the hotel an hour after the explosion reported seeing a man, his wife and son, asking why there’s a crowd and mentioning that they came to Lebanon on that day, left their belongings in Duroy, and left the room in the morning. After they learned what happened, the man and his wife decided to move away from the place, fearing for their child’s safety.

Who is the wanted Lebanese national?

Mundhir Khaldoun al-Hassan; born 1990 in Bazbina, Akkar; his mother is from Aleppo. Yesterday [June 26], General Security circulated his picture based on an authorization from the court. The circular pointed out that Hassan “holds Swedish citizenship with the name Munther al-Hassan. He is suspected of providing explosive belts and explosives for the network whose room was raided in Duroy.”

The General Security statement said that the suspect is moving around in two cars, one is an old-model, beige Nissan and the second is a gray 2005 Mercedes. The two cars may be booby-trapped.

Hassan is a long story. Most of his family members have arrest warrants against them. He has one brother who is detained on a train bombing case in a European country. He has two brothers held in Roumieh prison, and two brothers who carried out a joint suicide operation against a Syrian site in the Krak des Chevaliers fortress. He has a brother who carried out a suicide attack in Miatain Street at the start of battles between the army and Fatah al-Islam elements. His nephew was arrested at Beirut airport having night vision goggles, but a northern sheikh put pressure to have him released.

Hassan is also rumored to have put a picture of al-Saha restaurant on his Facebook page before the Raouche cell was arrested.

Two Yemenis are innocent, and bomb fuses in the hands of the security forces

Yesterday, the army raided the Dbayeh Palestinian refugee camp, searching for a black Jeep Cherokee, license plate 157699, and for a Syrian woman.

Security sources told As-Safir, “No wanted person was arrested and no car bomb was found,” stressing that “what we are doing in all areas is preventive action.”

In parallel with the Dbayeh operation, the Internal Security Forces raided the Ramada Raouche Hotel, where two Yemeni hotel guests were arrested. Security sources confirmed said, “The Yemenis were detained pending investigation. But till now, they have not been proven to be linked to terrorist groups,” and they may be released in the coming hours.

The same sources revealed that they had found in the hotel’s garbage dump primitive fuses that can be used to prepare explosive belts. But their use hasn’t been determined. The sources indicated that the fuses may have been thrown out after the arrest of the Raouche cell.

In this context, Ramada’s public relations manager Habib Saad said, “The raids happened without coordination with management,” denying rumors that explosives, or anything of the sort, were found inside the hotel.

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