Lebanese police have arrested an Uber driver with a criminal record in connection with the murder of a British diplomat believed to have been raped and strangled by the side of a road in Beirut.
According to The Times, security sources identified the suspect as Tarek H., and said that he was arrested on suspicion of murder in a raid at 3am on Monday December 18. They added that his taxi had been traced via speed cameras on the Metn Highway, a dual carriageway that branches off through the northeastern suburbs of the city from the main coast road.
Uber confirmed he was one of its drivers. Police sources said that he had a criminal record and had served time in prison, allegedly for drug offences.
Drivers for the taxi app are licensed like other taxi drivers in Lebanon, including police checks, and are expected to have a clean record. It is understood Uber had no reason to suppose he was not “clean”.
Police say he has confessed to the killing, according to the national news agency.
Rebecca Dykes, 30, who was on secondment to the British embassy in Beirut from the Department for International Development (Dfid), was found by the road on the previous Saturday evening and identified the next day. She was last seen with friends in a bar in the Gemmayzeh district on Friday evening, and had left to go home at about 11pm. The next day she was due to fly home to Britain for Christmas.
Police said that they believed Ms Dykes, known to her friends as Becky, was seen getting into a 4x4-style car on or near the main street.
They subsequently said that they had been able to trace the driver using a phone call that had apparently passed between the two and connect it to a car seen triggering a speed camera near where her body was found.
The phone number also matched that of a man who was already recorded in the police system. Local media reported that forensic scientists were trying to identify car tyre tracks near her body.
Although he is said to have confessed, sources close to the investigation say the full circumstances of Ms Dykes’s death are still not clear.
In particular, early reports said that she had been “forced” into the car. Police obtained video footage over the weekend from nearby restaurants and private apartment blocks.
Ms Dykes, who was a programme and policy manager for Dfid, had arrived in Beirut in the spring and had told friends that she enjoyed living in the city. Although described by those who knew her as shy, she threw herself into the embassy social circuit.
She had graduated from the University of Manchester be-fore completing a master’s degree in international security and global governance at Birkbeck, University of London. She had worked as an Iraq research analyst with the Foreign Office and later as a policy manager with its Libya team, according to her LinkedIn page.
Her family said in a statement: “We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Rebecca. We are doing all we can to understand what happened.”
Ms Dykes had been out with friends at a bar just off Gemmayzeh, which is the city’s best-known “bar street”, though noisier clubs were recently asked to move. It is now home to upmarket bars and restaurants.
Ms Dykes left at about 11pm with a friend while others went on to a party. The two young women then separated to head for their apartments; the friend’s was near by while Ms Dykes’s was a short taxi ride or a 20-minute walk away.
One friend said Ms Dykes had been suffering from a bug and was not drinking heavily. “She was supposed to be going home for Christmas the next day,” the friend said.
The friend added that her death had shocked expatriates, diplomats and aid workers, who meet regularly and in some cases live in the Gemmayzeh area and regarded it as safe.
One Lebanese said it was known as “the safest street in the city”.
Despite the violent reputation acquired during Lebanon’s civil war from 1975 to 1990, Beirut has come to be known as one of the most glamorous cities in the region. It attracts tourists from across the Middle East, many of whom come for the lively social scene, especially in the summer months and at Christmas.
Hugo Shorter, the British ambassador to Lebanon, said: “The whole embassy is deeply shocked and saddened. Our thoughts are with Becky’s family, friends and colleagues for their loss. We are providing consular support to Becky’s family and working very closely with the Lebanese local authorities.”