Europeans kidnapped in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2011 1:45 PM
Europeans kidnapped in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Seven Europeans 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.

One source said there was a Ukrainian identity card left at the scene while another said those kidnapped were thought to be of Ukrainian and Estonian nationalities.

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.

The Ukrainian embassy had no information about the incident.

The Estonian consulate could not be reached for comment.

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.

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.

(Additional reporting by Ayat Basma; writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Sophie Hares)