No word from Czechs missing, possibly kidnapped, in Lebanon: foreign minister

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 21, 2015 10:31 AM

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic has received no information on the whereabouts of five of its citizens who went missing in Lebanon last week and is treating the case as a possible kidnapping, Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said on Tuesday.

The government confirmed on Saturday that the Czech nationals and one Lebanese man had gone missing. Their abandoned vehicle was found near Kefraya in eastern Lebanon, near to where seven Estonians cyclists were kidnapped in 2011 and held for four months.

"We are working with kidnapping as one of the possibilities," Zaoralek told reporters. "We don't have any information about the location of these citizens at the moment, nobody has contacted us regarding this."

Lebanon's foreign minister has already referred to the case as an abduction.

One of the missing Czechs is an attorney to Ali Fayad, a man of Lebanese origin who is in a Czech custody awaiting a decision on U.S. extradition request, according to a Czech court. Fayad is wanted by the United States, accused of trying to sell arms and drugs to the Colombian guerrilla group FARC.

The Czech lawyer has traveled to Lebanon several times in relation to the case, his office said in an emailed statement.

Czech and Lebanese media said that the local man accompanying the Czechs was Ali Fayad's brother. Reuters could not independently confirm the reports.

The legal firm representing Fayad rejected speculation that the disappearance of the group might be linked to his case.

"Mr Fayad is shocked by the whole situation and he absolutely rules out any possible connection between the disappearance of the missing persons and his family," Fayad's other attorney, Vladimir Ricica, said in the statement.

Two of the five missing men work for a small regional Czech TV station and were in Lebanon to shoot a documentary film, a colleague said.

"They were supposed to return on Sunday (July 19), but they are not back," Zdenek Slechta, a camera operator at Jindrichohradecka Televize told Reuters.

Lebanese media have printed pictures of the five men's passports, which were reportedly found in the their car. The Czech foreign ministry has declined to name the men.

(Reporting by Robert Muller in Prague and Sylvia Westall in Beirut; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)