BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Lebanese taxi-driver with a previous arrest for drug use has confessed to killing a British woman who worked at the British Embassy in Beirut, a senior Lebanese security official said on Monday.
A second security source said preliminary investigations into the murder of Rebecca Dykes showed the motive was purely criminal, not political. The suspect, who worked for the Uber taxi service, had immediately confessed to the crime, which took place early on Saturday, the source said.
The senior security official aid the suspect was aged 41 and had been arrested on drug-related charges in the period 2015-17, which the official said might not show up on his judicial record.
The second security source said the suspect had a criminal record but gave no details.
Lebanon’s state news agency NNA identified the suspect by the first name Tariq and the initial H, and said he had picked Dykes up in his taxi in Beirut’s Gemmayzeh district on Friday evening before assaulting and killing her.
Uber declined to confirm the suspect’s name or how long he drove for Uber. The incident was the latest to highlight the issue of safety at Uber in various countries around the world.
An Uber spokesman said in a statement: “We are horrified by this senseless act of violence. Our hearts are with the victim and her family. We are working with authorities to assist their investigation in any way we can.”
Uber spokesman Harry Porter said the company uses commercially licensed taxi drivers in Lebanon, and the government carries out background checks and grants licenses.
Only drivers that have clean background checks and clean judicial records are licensed, he said. The suspect’s background check did not show any convictions, or he would not have been licensed, Porter said.
The San Francisco-based company was stripped of its operating licence in London in September over concerns about its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers. nL5N1M325G]
In Lebanon, police traced the suspect’s car through surveillance cameras on the highway, they said. Police only said they had arrested a suspect and that it was not a political crime.
Dykes’ body was found strangled by a main highway outside Beirut, a security source said on Sunday. She worked at the British Embassy for the Department for International Development.
“The whole embassy is deeply shocked, saddened by this news,” British ambassador to Lebanon Hugo Shorter said on Sunday.
”We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Rebecca,“ Dykes’ family said in a statement. We are doing all we can to understand what happened.”
Reporting By Laila Bassam, Angus McDowall and Ellen Francis in Beirut, by Costas Pitas in London and by Heather Somerville in San Francisco. Editing by Angus MacSwan