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Gunman opens fire at U.S. embassy in Lebanon, shot by soldiers

Lebanese army soldiers deploy near the U.S. embassy in Beirut on Wednesday after a Syrian man was arrested following a shooting near the embassy.  (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Mohamad El Chamaa and Suzan Haidamous Washington Post

BEIRUT – A gunman opened fire at the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon early Wednesday and was shot and wounded by Lebanese troops, the country’s army said in a statement.

The embassy, in a post on X, said that at 8:34 a.m., “small-arms fire was reported in the vicinity of the entrance” to the mission. It added that the “facility and our team are safe.” An embassy official later confirmed that one of its security guards was injured in the attack.

“We cannot say more but we wish him a full recovery. We thank all of our local staff and law enforcement colleagues for their professionalism and partnership,” the embassy spokesperson said.

Amateur footage carried by local media showed the gunman, clad in a black vest with ammunition pouches and jeans and carrying an assault rifle, walking near the embassy before opening fire at an approaching army vehicle. Sounds of intensive shooting soon followed before the assailant was stopped.

The army statement identified the shooter as a Syrian national and said he was taken into custody and hospitalized. An army spokesman said the motive for the attack was unknown.

A military intelligence official later said that five suspects have been apprehended by authorities including the shooter’s brother. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Photos circulating of the assailant taken after he was shot showed “Islamic State” painted on his vest in Arabic as well as the English letters “I” and “S” scrawled on the ammunition pouches.

Locals living near the embassy told the Washington Post that they could hear gunshots from indoors and assumed an attack was underway when roads were sealed off and soldiers and security personnel started to fill the streets.

U.S. missions throughout the Middle East have been on high alert throughout the war in Gaza, including in Lebanon, where protesters have voiced anger at the Biden administration’s stalwart backing for Israel’s military. In October, protesters set fire to a building near the embassy, in the hilly Awkar suburb of Beirut.

Weeks before Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on Israel that started the war, a Lebanese man shot several rounds at the embassy complex without injuring anyone. Authorities apprehended the assailant a week later in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

The embassy was moved from its location inside the capital after 1983, when a suicide bomber attacked the mission, killing 63 people. The move did little to keep the mission safe; in 1984, a car bomb exploded outside an embassy annex in its new location in Awkar, killing 23 people. The Islamic Jihad Organization, one of the precursor groups of Hezbollah, claimed responsibility for both attacks. In the wake of the attacks, an advisory panel led by Navy Admiral Bobby Ray Inman published a report on ways to make U.S. outposts more secure.

Roads around the embassy were briefly closed Wednesday after the shooting, state media reported.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in a statement carried by the state news agency, said “intensive investigations” were underway to “arrest all those involved.”

The statement added that U.S. Ambassador Lisa A. Johnson, was outside of Lebanon when the attack occurred.

Later in the day, the country’s foreign minister, Abdallah Bou Habib, stressed “Lebanon’s commitment to protecting diplomatic missions” in accordance with the Vienna Convention.

An updated statement on the embassy’s website noted that the premises “will remain closed to the public for the rest of today” but would reopen tomorrow. It also advised American citizens in Lebanon to stay alert and “avoid demonstrations and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings or protests.”

The news comes in the backdrop of daily border crossfire between Hezbollah and Israel. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is “prepared for very intense action in the north.”