Gunman killed after attack on Russia's Beirut embassy

 

Lebanese troops shot dead a gunman who sprayed the Russian embassy in Beirut with grenades and bullets yesterday in apparent solidarity with Muslim rebels in Chechnya.

Army and police forces stormed a building in the city's Mazraa district, where the gunman had fired at the embassy and briefly held a woman hostage. She was later released unharmed.

One policeman was killed and two wounded in a shootout with the gunman. At least two passers-by were hurt while trying to flee the area.

State television identified the gunman as a Palestinian named Ahmed Abou Kharoub and said a note was found in his pocket which read: "I martyred myself for Grozny."

Police later said Abou Kharoub was 30 years old and lived in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh, near Sidon.

Mr Vladimir Chamov, a counsellor at the embassy, said some buildings had been damaged but no staff had been harmed.

The Russian charge d'affaires, Mr Andrei Polyakov, told Russia's ORT television that three grenades in all exploded in the embassy compound, located in the Mar Elias business district of west Beirut.

"Half an hour ago, we were able to search embassy territory and we found three grenade craters," he said.

But police said only one of the powerful anti-tank grenades was fired at the embassy, a two-storey house surrounded by a large garden, and two at a police barracks nearby.

As the police, reportedly aided by troops from Syria's 35,000-strong garrison in Lebanon, engaged Kharoub, a gendarmerie squad stormed the building and killed him.

"He [the gunman] said that he wanted to die a martyr and that it pained him not to have killed a Russian before he was shot," the released hostage, identified as a woman named Ina'am, said before being taken to a nearby police station.

A Reuters reporter at the scene said soldiers lowered the body of the dead gunman to the ground minutes after seizing control of the residential and commercial building where he was holed up.

Officers said they believed the attacker had acted alone, but soldiers were combing the area for possible accomplices.

Security sources said the army found rocket-propelled grenade-launchers and Kalashnikov rifles in the building and were patrolling the area with armoured vehicles.

Some Beirut newspapers said last week that Islamists loyal to rebels currently under attack by the Russian army in Chechnya were being trained in Lebanon, but security officials denied the report.

The Lebanese President, Mr Emile Lahoud, discussed yesterday's attack with the Prime Minister, Mr Selim al-Hoss, the President's office said in a statement. "The incident involving the Russian embassy is now under control, and our forces managed to quell it in about an hour," the statement added.