Posted by: sean | January 12, 2010

Robbed at gunpoint

I wrote this last night when I got in from the police station. It’s not  the sort of thing I generally post about, but I’m putting it up here for others who might be in the wrong cab at the wrong time. Also, see this and this.

Earlier tonight, I was robbed at gunpoint. There were two men in a black Mercedes with red service plates. I finished work a little late and took a service from BarBar in Hamra at around 9 pm to my home in Achrafieh. In hindsight, I should have suspected something when the driver, who was parked across from the gas station next to BarBar where the buses stop, immediately agreed to service wahad instead of trying to hassle me for servicein, or even a taxi. He took a short detour from the bridge explaining that he had to drop off the other “passenger.” He then sped up until we were on the airport road, and as soon as we arrived at the first tunnel at Salim Salam, the “passenger” pulled out a gun and pointed it at me.

He wanted my wallet, but I told him all I had was the 2,000 LL in my pocket. He insisted, and so did I. Finally he asked to look in my bag, and I pulled out a small notebook for him and told  him it was all I had. Strangely enough, he seemed convinced, and even stranger, didn’t ask for my watch, my phone, my jacket or my bag. At the end of the tunnel (the whole gun pointing process must have taken only a minute or so), he slowed down and I got out having finally escaped with only paying service wahad, despite the gun. The whole thing probably took less than 15 minutes from BarBar to Salim Salam. I thought I had managed to get their license number, but the police told me later that it should have only had 6 digits, not 7. Unless, of course, it was a normal plate that had been painted red.

After repeating the plate number (or what I thought it to be) twice in rapid succession and then saving it in my phone, I tried to call 112, but there wasn’t any reception. Then I managed to find a corner store to call from, and 112 hung up on me. Finally, I got through to someone, and they said there was nothing they could do, and that I should just go to the police station. I flagged down some kids and got them to take me to the army checkpoint under the bridge that crosses downtown. They soldiers told me that they couldn’t do anything either, so I went to the Gemmayzeh police station, where they proceeded to tell me that it wasn’t their jurisdiction, that I should go the Mousseitbeh station, which is the closest to where I was actually robbed. I asked if they could give me a ride, to which the daraki replied with no conscious irony: “just take a service.”

Finally, I made it there, and after several hours, I’m doubtful that the police will be able to do much. They did tell me, though, that two Iraqis were robbed at the same place (from BarBar to Salim Salam) by what sounds like the same two guys in the same car last Thursday. Those two gentlemen, it seems,were forced to part with $3,000 and a laptop, so finally, I feel somewhat lucky to have gotten out of the whole mess for a measly two thou.

I write you this, because I hope that everyone will be cautious when taking a cab. Something didn’t feel right with these guys from the get-go, and I should have never gotten in with them, but besides the small signs of not haggling and vaguely resembling the plot in the US warden message, I can’t say what sets these guys apart from other service drivers. In my experience over the last several years, in the evening, drivers usually tool around with a friend for company and often take a bit of a roundabout way to get where I need to go.

So if I had to offer you advice, I don’t know what it would be, except stay away from a late 80s to early 90s model black Mercedes with a red plate bearing a number that’s similar to 3678683 driven by a guy around 45-50 years old with a big bald spot, salt and pepper hair and a mustache, accompanied by a taller younger guy with black curly hair, bad skin and a dark complexion. That is probably simultaneously too specific and too vague to be very helpful, but it’s all I’ve got to offer.

For my part, from now on, I think I’ll take my chances getting pulled over for driving my motorcycle after 6.

Warden Message
December 23, 2009

The Embassy has received several reports in the past few weeks regarding a theft ring that seems to be targeting foreigners using service cars. Service cars are privately owned vehicles bearing red license plates that act as public transportation for multiple passengers at one time. Typically, the passenger is picked up by a service car that already contains two people (the driver and one passenger).  The driver then takes the victim to a more isolated area or the freeway where the first “passenger” robs the second passenger by threatening him/her with a gun.

The Embassy advises all American citizens to be wary of these service cars. Carry the number of a reputable taxi company with you in case of emergencies.  If you do choose to use a service car, make sure that it has the red government plate.  If you notice anything unusual or the car seems to be taking a different route than you expected, ask to stop the car and exit the vehicle immediately.  If you should fall victim to this or any other crime, please report it to the Lebanese authorities immediately.

Americans living or traveling in Lebanon are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website,  <>, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Lebanon.  Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.



  1. Yikes. Glad you’re safe.

  2. Jeez, very unpleasant experience. Glad you’re OK, Sean.

  3. I never allow any of my sisters, younger brother, mom, and gf to use a service.. i just don’t trust those guys.

    It is true that i am generalizing and most of them are needy people working their asses off, but just a single “unpleasant” experience, trauma, led me to this decision.

    On a side note, a sister of a very close friend was once sexually harassed and literally dry humped in a service in the middle of the day!

    Glad you’re safe!

  4. I heard about a few service robberies happening when I was there in December.

    Glad to hear you made it out alright, and ironically, only paid for the service ride.

    Thanks for highlighting total police inefficiency in Beirut. They love driving around in their new, American-donated, flashy police vehicles, putting up road blocks to frustrate drivers, but when it comes to REAL police work, “meh, take a service”.


  5. […] at “The Human Province” talks about how he was robbed at gunpoint in a cab in the capital Beirut. Cancel this […]

  6. Glad you’re safe Sean.

  7. Sean, glad to see you’re okay.

    In November, I was picked up by a service in the same spot – just outside of Bar Bar in Hamra (the best place to get taxis to Ashrafieh) – and had a gun pulled on me by the fellow “passenger”.

    From what it sounds like, the suspects and the car mentioned match those that were involved in my robbery. I was unable to get a license plate number on the car as the gunman kept his pistol trained on me as I fled.

    They dropped me by the Marriott in Jnah and eventually got to the police precinct in Bir Hassan where the cops were not helpful.

    There seems to be an overall lack of willingness (or better, motivation) by the ISF to pursue these cases, despite the same situation happening over and over again in the same spots. They need to get there act together.

    With all of Baroud’s legions hunting down poor delivery drivers with mopeds, you think there’s the manpower in Beirut to start to curtail the rampant rise of crime in Beirut over the past few months that has terrorized both foreigners and Lebanese alike.

  8. First of all, thanks to everyone for the kind words of support.

    Josh: I’ve just talked to an Australian friend of mine who was taken by the exact same guys. The “passenger” apparently had a beard back in November when he was robbed, but everything, down to the bad skin, sounds the same. He remembers the car being dark blue, which may be the case, since it was hard for me to tell if it was black or dark navy.

    What I find so frustrating is the total lack of police work. It would take a few plainclothes policemen doing some actual legwork for a week or so to find these guys, but no one seems interested.

  9. Fellow crackers! Be warned of the natives’ criminal mindset!

  10. Hi Sean,
    First of all thank God you’re allright.
    Secondly, I hope you don’t let this go, the only thing we had going for us in Lebanon was a “relative” personal feeling of safety from crime (if not from wars), I was thinking that maybe if you had any contacts with newspaper journalists you would take this issue up with one of them . There is nothing like bad PR to get someone off their ass and force them to do their work.
    Obviously from the above comments, these robbers are repeat offenders using the same tactics, and someone should deal with it.
    There is a complaints phone number on the ISF website too if you are interested in taking this further (01-425277) perhaps you could try there.

  11. Dear “White man Lee”: how’s the weather over there in New York?

  12. Ya Nona: Thanks for the message, and no, I’m not dropping it, but there is very little recourse available. I’m acquainted with someone in the Minsitry of the Interior, so I’ll see about getting a letter to Baroud. Other than that, I’m not really sure what can be done. I’ll give the complaints line a chance, but I don’t imagine that will do too much…

  13. I am so glad I read your post! I am so glad you made it through! Yikes! I live in Dallas, Texas and my son was mugged at gunpoint here, and the last couple of days we have had gunshots in the neighborhood, so it is not only in Beirut that crime is rampant.
    In Beirut, I did learn to stay away from services and taxis due to some bad experiences, like being overcharged. Sorry you had to go through this.

  14. […] I recently  wrote a post on here about getting robbed. In fact, that post was pretty much the same as an email I sent out to my colleagues a few hours […]

  15. this is not very nice

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