Ransom demanded for kidnapped Estonians

A group has demanded a ransom to release the seven Estonians that were kidnapped in Bekaa Valley last month.

    The seven men were kidnapped at gun point in the Bekaa Valley after entering Lebanon through Syria.

    A Lebanese group that kidnapped seven Estonians last month in the Bekaa Valley has demanded an unspecified ransom for their release, the director of the website Lebanon Files Rabih Haber said Wednesday.

    "We received an email overnight from the group that claimed the kidnapping last week and we informed the authorities," Haber told AFP.

    A Haraket Al-Nahda Wal-Islah [Movement for Renewal and Reform] claimed responsibility for the kidnappings last week via Lebanon Files.

    The group said the Estonians were in good condition and that it wanted a ransom, without specifying a sum.

    The group's claim to Lebanon Files that it was behind the kidnapping has not been authenticated by authorities.

    In a statement, the Estonian foreign ministry said it and Lebanese law enforcement authorities were taking the message seriously.

    "We are continuing to work closely with the Lebanese authorities and representatives of our partner nations in order to explore all possibilities for finding the abducted Estonian citizens," said foreign minister Urmas Paet in a statement.

    On Tuesday, Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said it was unclear whether the Estonians were still in Lebanon or had been smuggled across the border.

    "The army and the Internal Security Forces are doing their best to reach a happy end to this kidnapping," he said.

    Baroud said four people had been arrested in connection with the March 23 incident and that authorities had some important leads in the case. He would not elaborate.

    The seven men, in their 30s and early 40s, were kidnapped at gun point in the eastern Bekaa Valley after entering Lebanon through Syria on their bicycles.

    A senior security official had previously told AFP a gang of Lebanese and Syrians were involved in the abduction.

    Authorities believe the Estonians may have been moved to Syria, across the porous border between the two countries. The motive for the kidnapping is unclear.

    Abductions have been rare in Lebanon since the end of the country's 1975-1990 civil war during which nearly 100 foreigners, mostly Americans and western Europeans, were kidnapped.

    Two Polish tourists were rescued by the army after their kidnap by a clan in the Bekaa in September. The region is notorious for lawlessness, drug trafficking and feuding tribal clans.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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