A taxi driver has admitted murdering a British diplomat who was found dead by the side of a road in Beirut, it has been claimed.
Rebecca Dykes was abducted after leaving a party in the city before being strangled and dumped by the side of a motorway on the outskirts of the Lebanese capital. Police are investigating whether she was sexually assaulted.
Police arrested a man, believed to be an Uber driver named only as Tarek H, in a 3am raid today.
According to Lebanon’s NNA agency he has admitted picking the diplomat up in his taxi, attempting to rape her and then strangling her before ditching her body by the roadside.
The body of the 30-year-old former public schoolgirl was found by a motorway on Saturday evening several miles from the nightspot where she was last seen alive.
Miss Dykes’ family have been left ‘devastated’ by her death.
A police official said today that the suspect was traced through security cameras that showed his car driving from Beirut to the area where Dykes’ body was found, just north of the Lebanese capital.
‘He was detained at his apartment,’ the official said. He added that once the plate number of the vehicle was traced through security cameras, the suspect, who is a Lebanese citizen, was identified.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said the suspect is a taxi driver who picked up the woman from Beirut’s Gemayze neighborhood, known for its restaurants and pubs, then drove to a nearby neighborhood where she lived but did not drop her off there.
Instead, the suspect drove the car to the site where Dykes’ body was later found. NNA said the man tried to sexually assault her, then strangled her with a rope. The police have not confirmed those details.
The murder has shaken Lebanon, where such crimes, particularly against foreigners, are relatively uncommon.
Earlier, a forensics official told The Associated Press that the woman was strangled with a rope and that authorities were investigating whether she was also sexually assaulted.
Lebanese police have launched an investigation following the discovery on Saturday evening.
One security source said the diplomat was found with ‘a piece of string around her neck’.
Miss Dykes worked for the Department for International Development as a programme and policy manager and moved to Beirut in January.
In a statement, her family said last night: ‘We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Rebecca. We are doing all we can to understand what happened.’
The diplomat, who was understood to be planning to fly home for Christmas on Saturday, had been at a leaving party for a British embassy colleague at a bar in the Gemmayzeh area of central Beirut.
She left alone just after midnight and is thought to have been abducted minutes later. Police sources gave the cause of death as strangulation following a post-mortem examination, but added that another test is to be carried out.
One official involved in the investigation said: ‘Our first impression is that it’s not politically motivated.’
He said her body was found ‘on the side of the Emile Lahoud road’, east of central Beirut. He said investigators were looking into reports that Miss Dykes had been sexually assaulted.
Local media reported that Miss Dykes had been raped but the claim has not been confirmed.
One friend said: ‘It’s horrific. We had no idea what happened to her until we got a call today to go to the police station to give statements.’ Hugo Shorter, the British ambassador to Lebanon, said: ‘The whole embassy is deeply shocked, saddened by this news. My thoughts are with Becky’s family, friends and colleagues for their tragic loss.
‘We’re providing consular support to her family and working very closely with Lebanese authorities who are conducting a police investigation.’
Miss Dykes was a boarder at Malvern St James girls’ school in Worcestershire and then spent two years at Rugby School, one of the oldest independent schools in Britain. She graduated in social anthropology at Manchester University in 2008.
Miss Dykes then completed a master’s degree in international security and global governance at Birkbeck, University of London.
She joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2010 and worked in Iraq as a research analyst before working in Libya as a policy manager. On her LinkedIn page she described herself as ‘skilled in conflict, international relations, civil society and humanitarian assistance’.
Miss Dykes spent four years in Hong Kong, teaching English to teenagers. She also worked as a human rights monitor, translating documents from Chinese to English. Last night friends and colleagues spoke of their shock at her murder.
Bilal Al Ayoubi wrote on Twitter: ‘What a great loss. The ugly face of life is when someone dedicates her life to working for peace and stability in the world gets murdered in such brutality…very sad.
‘She was such a sweet and kind lady who took her job seriously and cared about Lebanon’s stability.’
One friend, Brooke Anderson, wrote on Facebook: ‘Simply in shock. We will miss you, Becky.’
The Foreign Office advises against all travel to several areas in Lebanon, including southern suburbs of Beirut, and all but essential travel to most other areas of the country.
Terror attacks are deemed ‘very likely’ in the country, and protests in Beirut are common following the US announcement on the status of Jerusalem.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: ‘Following the death of a British woman in Beirut, we are providing support to the family. We remain in close contact with local authorities. Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.’
Under Lebanon’s CSSF programme, the UK government has spent millions of pounds supporting the country’s armed forces to address ‘security threats originating from Syria’.
Cash has also been spent on preventing ‘illegal cross border activity’ between Lebanon and Syria – an area where jihadists have been active – and assisting local policing.
Last night some expressed concerns that the attack on Miss Dyke might be hushed up by Lebanese authorities.
Rami Cherri wrote on Twitter: ‘The lack of coverage on the rape and murder on any Lebanese news channel is disgusting to say the least. In order to have a safer society in this country our mind-set has to change for the better.
‘We need to address the rise of rape and murders in Lebanon now. This is inexcusable and inhumane.’