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Explosives found at embassy in Beirut

A Lebanese man with a suitcase of explosives was arrested Wednesday outside the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon. A second man, a Palestinian taxi driver, was arrested as a possible accomplice.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Lebanese man carrying a suitcase full of explosives, possibly to carry out a suicide attack, was arrested Wednesday outside the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon. A second man, a Palestinian taxi driver, was arrested as a possible accomplice.

The Lebanese man was seeking to enter the embassy when he was stopped by soldiers at an army checkpoint about 500 yards from the compound, a senior Lebanese security official said.

The U.S. Embassy official confirmed that a man with "a suspicious package" was arrested when he tried to enter the embassy.

The man, identified as Abed Mreish, was carrying more than two pounds of explosives in a small suitcase, the Lebanese official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The official refused to speculate on the man's motives, saying Mreish, who is in his 30s, was being interrogated by army officers.

No blast or casualties
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the man was stopped by Lebanese working for the U.S. Foreign Service, apparently guards. He said that the second person arrested was a taxi driver who had apparently driven the bombing suspect to the embassy and that it was unclear whether the driver was involved.

"The device did not explode, nor was anyone harmed," Boucher said.

The Lebanese army said in a statement that a Lebanese man and a Palestinian were arrested outside the U.S. Embassy while trying to bring a bomb into the embassy compound.

"Investigation has begun with the two men. Attempts are under way to arrest all those involved with them and refer them to the appropriate court," said the brief statement faxed to the AP in Beirut.

Wednesday's incident came less than a week after the U.S. State Department urged Americans in Lebanon to keep a low profile, vary times and routes of travel and avoid Palestinian refugee camps because of growing tensions and anti-U.S. rhetoric in the Middle East.

A State Department travel warning posted on the U.S. Embassy Web site Friday did not refer to a specific threat in Lebanon. However, it cited bomb attacks against U.S. fast-food franchises and a British supermarket chain and the killing of a U.S. nurse in the southern port city of Sidon in the last two years.

The statement noted that the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, which is on the U.S. terrorist list, had not been disarmed and that it maintained a strong presence in many Lebanese areas.

Lebanon joined the U.S.-led war on terror, but it has refused U.S. demands to dismantle , which is regarded here as a resistance movement for leading the guerrilla war against Israel's 18-year occupation of a border zone in southern Lebanon.

 is believed to have ties to Iranian-backed Shiite militants who kidnapped Westerners and bombed U.S. targets in Beirut during the country's 1975-90 civil war.

On May 30, the United States reopened its consulate in Beirut, nearly 20 years after it was closed during the war. In the mid-1980s, suicide bombers carried out two attacks on U.S. Embassy buildings, and Iranian-backed Shiite militants also bombed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983, killing 241 U.S. servicemen.

Security has been very tight at the embassy in Lebanon going back to the suicide car bombs in the 1980s. Also, during the civil war, an ambassador and a diplomat were kidnapped and killed and two other ambassadors were wounded in the bombings of U.S. buildings.

Earlier this year, Lebanese authorities uncovered a terrorist plot to kill U.S. Ambassador Vincent Battle and attack the U.S. Embassy and other Western targets.

Thirty-five people have been indicted in bombings of U.S. and British targets in Lebanon between May 2002 and April this year in which five people were hurt. All 35 are charged with forming a terrorist network to bomb Western targets and harm Lebanon's reputation.

The attacks on Western targets in Lebanon have been linked to anti-U.S. sentiments over the U.S. occupation of Iraq and what is regarded as U.S. bias toward Israel.