BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk Monday moved to reassure both Lebanese and foreign nationals alike of their safety in the country, following U.K. woman Rebecca Dykes’ murder.
“Arresting the killer of the British Embassy employee quickly is a security accomplishment that proves once again the professionalism of the Internal Security Forces. ... These exceptional efforts should reassure Lebanese and foreigners that security is tight in Lebanon,” Machnouk said in a statement.
Dykes’ suspected killer was arrested around 3 a.m. Monday at his apartment in Sassine, around 48 hours after the attack took place. The man, a Lebanese national, was identified as Tarek Houshieh by judicial sources to The Daily Star. He was contracted as a driver by popular ride-sharing application Uber and had been working the evening he is suspected of killing Dykes. A senior security source said Houshieh had a criminal record.
Dykes had been at a colleague’s farewell party Friday night at the popular Gemmayzeh bar Demo with a small group of friends in what they’d planned as “a girls night out.” She left shortly before midnight with one other woman, as Dykes herself was set to fly home for Christmas the next day.
The owner of Demo, Tariq Murad, told The Daily Star, “She definitely left before last call at [midnight]. If she had been here [then], we would have known.” Demo’s staff said they “had no idea anything had happened until Sunday when journalists visited the bar.”
Shortly after leaving Demo, Dykes hailed a ride home through Uber, a judicial source said. While waiting for the car, Dykes sent a message to Houshieh, her allocated driver, through the application. It was through this message he would later be tracked down.
“A few minutes after that, the car picked her up from Mar Mikhael and headed to the Metn area,” the judicial source added. The car was tracked through the Traffic Management Center’s cameras leaving Ashrafieh, passing through Dora, toward the highway that connects Beirut with the areas of Baabdat and Broummana.” Once in Metn, “the car pulled into a secluded area,” the source said.
Shortly before 10 a.m. Saturday, a body was discovered alongside the Metn highway by a routine police patrol and initial forensic examinations were carried out at the crime scene. The body was transferred to Dahr al-Bashak Hospital for a full post-mortem examination. After the ISF distributed a sketch of Dykes’ face, she was identified Sunday afternoon by British Embassy staff.
Nehme Mallah, who carried out both forensic examinations on her body, said she was strangled with “a drawstring,” leaving a 20 cm laceration across her neck.
Houshieh had also taken her “wallet and papers. ... They were found in a nearby rubbish dump,” a judicial source said.
Dykes had moved to Beirut in January of this year. The BBC reported her killer had served “several prison sentences,” though it was not clear for what crimes, nor is it clear how he managed to work with Uber as a driver with a criminal record.
Uber confirmed to The Daily Star that Houshieh was contracted by the company. Uber does not directly vet drivers in Lebanon; however, it is the company’s policy that drivers must have a taxi license. Under Lebanese law, taxi drivers must have a clean judicial record.
An Uber statement, released early Monday, read: “We are horrified by this senseless act of violence. Our hearts are with the victim and her family. We are working with authorities to assist their investigation in any way we can.”
Media highlighted that such attacks were very rare when it came to foreign nationals in Lebanon, which Mallah confirmed, saying, “This is the first time I’ve seen a case like this with a Westerner [in my career]. But I see four or five of these cases a month – half of them Syrian, half Lebanese.”
This article was amended on Tuesday, December 19 2017
Parts of this story pertaining to the suspect's confession have been removed at the request of the deceased's friends and family.
In a previous version of this story, The Daily Star incorrectly identified Rebecca Dykes' suspected killer as Tarek Hesso.
The Daily Star regrets the error.