Estonians kidnapped in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2011 2:05 PM
Estonians kidnapped in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

By Yara Bayoumy

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Seven Estonians riding bicycles in Lebanon's Bekaa valley were kidnapped by masked gunmen on Wednesday, security sources said, a rare incident of its kind since the Lebanese civil war.

The exact circumstances of the attack in an industrial zone in eastern Lebanon remained unclear.

Security sources said masked gunmen in a black Mercedes and two white vans kidnapped the foreigners on a road between Zahle, a mostly Christian town, and Kfar Zabed, a mixed Sunni-Christian town.

The cyclists had apparently crossed into Lebanon from Syria at about 4 p.m. (1400 GMT), a source said.

The Estonian consul in Lebanon, Sami Kamouh, told Reuters he had received a phone call from the General Security in Zahle who told him they had found the papers of Estonians at the scene of the attack.

A Reuters photographer at the scene said the bicycles and backpacks of the cyclists were lying on the ground. Security forces were at the scene and speaking to witnesses.

The army confirmed seven Europeans were "missing" but gave no further details.

Shadowy groups linked to Hezbollah kidnapped dozens of Western hostages in Beirut in the 1980s during Lebanon's civil war. But instances of kidnapping have been rare since then.

There is a base for a pro-Syrian Palestinian militant group on the outskirts of Kfar Zabed.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.

Last year, two Polish tourists were briefly kidnapped in the Bekaa valley but were freed after security forces opened fire on their captors at a checkpoint, killing one of them.

(Editing by Sophie Hares)