BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese authorities on Monday arrested a local Uber driver suspected of killing a British woman who worked for the U.K. Embassy in Beirut and whose body was found beside a motorway east of the city with a rope around her neck.
Uber said in an emailed statement it was working with Lebanese authorities "to assist their investigation in any way we can." Lebanese media reported that the suspect was an Uber driver. Police have refused to confirm or deny those reports, or say whether the man had a criminal record.
The woman, identified by British media and friends as Rebecca Dykes, was found dead early Saturday. She was last seen at a bar in Beirut's Gemayzeh district Friday night. Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said the driver picked her up and 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, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) from the city. NNA said the man tried to sexually assault her, then strangled her with a rope. The police have not confirmed those details, but a forensics official said she was strangled and likely assaulted.
"We are horrified by this senseless act of violence. Our hearts are with the victim and her family," the Uber statement said.
A police official said Dykes' murder was a "criminal act" and was not politically motivated, adding that the suspect had confessed to the killing.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk praised the swift arrest of the suspect, saying it should boost confidence in Lebanon's security agencies. He said authorities are concerned about the safety of "all foreigners residing in Lebanon."
The murder has shaken the expat community in Beirut, where such crimes are rare and where foreigners generally feel safe.
The ride-hailing company is popular among expats and tourists in the city, where it has a competitive edge against taxis and other forms of public transportation.
Uber has faced a slew of legal challenges in Britain and the United States over licensing and security checks of drivers, but has encountered few such problems in the Middle East. In Egypt, where sexual harassment is widespread, Uber teamed up with a local group to offer safe rides for women. In Lebanon, drivers must be licensed taxi drivers with no criminal record.
Dykes worked for the Department for International Development. In a statement released by the Foreign Office, the family requested that the media respect their privacy "at this very difficult time."
"We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Rebecca. We are doing all we can to understand what happened," her family said. Dykes' friends said she was planning to fly home for Christmas on Saturday.
British Ambassador to Lebanon Hugo Shorter said embassy staff were "deeply shocked and saddened" by news of Dykes' death.
"Our thoughts are with Becky's family, friends and colleagues for their tragic loss," Shorter said.
The police official said authorities tracked the suspect through security cameras that showed his car driving from Beirut to the area where Dykes' body was found, just east of the Lebanese capital. He said the suspect was detained at his apartment.
Earlier, a forensics official told The Associated Press that the woman was strangled with a rope and there were signs she was sexually assaulted. He said Monday that official examination reports can take up to four days.
Both the police and the forensics official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.