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