Casino du Liban safe, head says af­ter U.S. Em­bassy bans staff

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Joseph Haboush

BEIRUT: The United States Em­bassy in Beirut an­nounced Thurs­day that it had barred all em­bassy staff from vis­it­ing Le­banon’s only casino.

“Due to the on­go­ing threats to lo­ca­tions such as the Casino du Liban in Jounieh, Le­banon, the U.S. Em­bassy in Beirut has barred any move­ment of U.S. gov­ern­ment staff to that Casino,” a state­ment from the em­bassy read.

The em­bassy’s state­ment was sent as a se­cu­rity up­date via email to U.S. cit­i­zens sub­scribed to their travel warn­ing sys­tem.

Mean­while, the casino’s newly ap­pointed chair­man, Roland Khoury, re­jected any claims that the casino was un­safe. “It is 100 per­cent se­cure and there is no danger to vis­i­tors to Casino du Liban,” Khoury told The Daily Star.

The chair­man said that the U.S. Em­bassy rou­tinely sends out such se­cu­rity warn­ings, and their lat­est alert came “fol­low­ing the Le­banese Army’s re­cent vic­tory in the ‘Fajr alJoroud’ op­er­a­tion.”

“It’s for all of Le­banon, not just specif­i­cally the casino,” he said.

Af­ter the of­fen­sive was launched, of­fi­cials warned of po­ten­tial reprisal at­tacks by mil­i­tant groups on tar­gets in Le­banon.

Khoury noted that Army In­tel­li­gence and In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Forces have bu­reaus in­side the casino, although the pres­ence of th­ese of­fices was not widely pub­li­cized. “In ad­di­tion, the casino has its own se­cu­rity team and two Army check­points near the en­trance and exit of the casino,” he said.

When asked why Casino du Liban might have been sin­gled out in the em­bassy’s alert, Khoury said it was likely be­cause the casino is “one of the top touris­tic spots in the coun­try.”

Ex­trem­ist groups have threat­ened Le­banon’s tourism at­trac­tions in the past, claim­ing that such sites vi­o­late the groups’ hard­line re­li­gious be­liefs.

Gam­bling and sim­i­lar pur­suits have been out­lawed by or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Daesh (ISIS), and may be used as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the atroc­i­ties such groups’ per­pe­trate.

Khoury also cited new se­cu­rity boost­ing mea­sures, such as pre­vent­ing cars from en­ter­ing the casino’s court­yard near the main en­trance.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion at Casino du Liban re­leased a state­ment Thurs­day af­ter­noon re­spond­ing to the U.S. Em­bassy’s warn­ing.

“The safety of our vis­i­tors ... is guar­an­teed. The casino will con­tinue its ac­tiv­i­ties as usual and its doors and halls will re­main open, with se­cu­rity mea­sures in place to pro­tect all of its vis­i­tors,” the casino’s state­ment said.

Of­fi­cials from Gen­eral Se­cu­rity and the ISF, when reached for com­ment sep­a­rately, pro­fessed to be un­aware of any con­crete po­ten­tial threats against the casino or other tourist at­trac­tions in Le­banon.

The coun­try has en­joyed a rel­a­tively calm do­mes­tic se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion at a time when coun­tries across the re­gion have been thrown into tur­moil. When the north­east­ern bor­der town of Ar­sal was briefly over­run by Daesh and the Nusra Front – now known as Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham – in 2014, the Le­banese Army was one of the few mil­i­taries in the re­gion to suc­cess­fully re­pel the mil­i­tant groups.

In Au­gust, the Army launched its all-out Fajr al-Joroud of­fen­sive to drive out re­main­ing Daesh fighters and their fam­i­lies from their last re­main­ing strongholds along the Le­banese-Syria bor­der.

The of­fen­sive was suc­cess­ful, con­clud­ing with a cease-fire that stip­u­lated the trans­fer of all re­main­ing ex­trem­ists out of Le­banon.

The Army’s swift vic­tory in that bat­tle was touted as a clear in­di­ca­tion that Le­banon’s mil­i­tary was ca­pa­ble of de­fend­ing the coun­try’s cit­i­zens and its ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty.

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