Intense search in Lebanon for kidnapped Estonians

The seven Estonians, all men, had crossed legally into Lebanon from Syria.

Updated: Mar 24, 2011, 16:20 PM IST

Zahle: An intense search was underway on Thursday in Lebanon`s eastern Bekaa Valley for seven Estonian cyclists kidnapped the day before by armed gunman, the Army said.

Army and police set up checkpoints and raided several places overnight in the mountainous area of Kfar Zabad where the gunmen were seen headed after abducting the group at gunpoint, an Army spokesman said.

"We have set up an operations centre in the region and we are searching any place that looks suspicious," the spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We hope to find them today," he added.

The Estonians, all men, had crossed legally into Lebanon from Syria Wednesday and were intercepted at about 5:30 pm (1530 GMT) by armed men in two white vans and a dark Mercedes with no licence plates in the industrial part of the city of Zahle, officials said.

"They were forced at gunpoint into the vans which headed toward the eastern Bekaa village of Kfar Zabad," a security official said.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) has a military base in the area, but a spokesman for the pro-Syrian group said it had nothing to do with the kidnappings.

Abductions have been very rare in Lebanon since the kidnappings of Western hostages during Lebanon`s 1975-1990 civil war. Nearly 100 foreigners, mostly Americans and western Europeans, were kidnapped between 1982 and 1990.
Two Polish tourists were briefly kidnapped last September before being rescued by the Army.

Lebanon`s Bekaa Valley is reputed for its lawlessness, drug trafficking and feuding tribal clans.

Bureau Report