Estonian tourists kidnapped in Lebanon

Armed gunmen force tourist group into two vans near Zahle in the Bekaa Valley, security sources say.

    Seven Estonian tourists have been kidnapped by masked gunmen while cycling in Lebanon's Bekaa valley, security sources said.

    The exact circumstances of the kidnapping in an industrial zone in eastern Lebanon on Wednesday remained unclear.

    Security sources said masked gunmen in a black Mercedes and two white vans with no licence plates 
    kidnapped the foreigners on a road between Zahle, a mostly Christian town, and Kfar Zabed, a mixed Sunni-Christian town.

    "The vehicles headed toward the eastern Bekaa village of Kfar Zabed near where there is a post for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)," an official told AFP news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    Local television quoted a PFLP-GC official as saying that the Palestinian group had nothing to do with the abduction of the Estonians.

    Kfar Zabed is located some 10 kilometres southeast of Zahle and five kilometres from the border with Syria. The PFLP-GC is a pro-Syrian Palestinian group whose leader, Ahmed Jibril, is based in Damascus.

    "The army and police are working together to locate the seven missing and bring them back to safety," the official added.

    The cyclists are Estonian, the Estonian consul in Lebanon said, without disclosing further details. They had crossed into Lebanon from Syria on Wednesday.

    "The General Security in Zahle called me and said they found the papers of Estonian people," Sami Kamouh, the Estonian consul, told Reuters news agency.

    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. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.

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

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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