Edgy Lebanese add smartphones to their anti-car bomb arsenal

Edgy Lebanese add smartphones to their anti-car bomb arsenal

BEIRUT - As Lebanon reels from deadly bomb attacks that revived painful memories of the civil war, jittery authorities are banking on a smartphone application and other alert systems to prevent further bloodshed.

The attacks - twin car bombs in the northern city of Tripoli last week and a blast in a densely populated Shiite area of Beirut eight days before - have shaken the Lebanese just as a military strike on neighbouring Syria appears imminent.

"See that car?", said Khairy Ghali, a 22-year-old waiter in a near-empty restaurant on Beirut's popular Hamra Street, pointing to a vehicle parked in front of the establishment's outdoor terrace. "We don't know if there's anything in it... We're afraid, we come to work and we don't know if we'll go home or not."

Not content with the usual measures aimed at preventing further attacks, such as checking car trunks before vehicles enter vulnerable sites like malls and hotels, authorities have also decided to harness the power of smartphone technology.

The Lebanese army has launched an application called "LAF Shield" that allows citizens to take videos or photos of suspicious vehicles or objects and send them to the army command.

It also allows them to identify "dangerous sites" such as places where security incidents happened through an interactive site.

In a statement on its official website, the army said it aimed "to involve the largest numbers of citizens in defending the country."

Authorities have also called on people to put their names and telephone numbers in a visible place on their cars every time they park them, and more generally for residents to be ultra vigilant.

For the moment, the methods are working... almost to a fault.

"The operation room of the Internal Security Forces (the country's police) has been receiving more than 1,000 calls every day since the Beirut bombing from citizens all over Lebanon who tell us there are suspect cars," a security official told AFP.

"In some cases, it's clear that the vehicles are not suspect. Other times, police have to break windows and force open doors to inspect the vehicle," said the official, who wished to remain anonymous.

"But so far, all have been false alerts."

Photos circulating widely on social media also show signs posted on windscreens by jumpy drivers keen to avoid damage to their vehicles.

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