Vice President of Intelligence Fred Burton examines the recent abduction of Estonian nationals in the Bekaa Valley in the context of hostage-taking in Lebanon going back to the 1980s.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Hostage-taking is back in Lebanon with the March 23 abduction of seven cyclists from Estonia, who were kidnapped in the Bekaa Valley. This is reminiscent of Lebanon being a hotbed of hostage-taking in the 1980s.
Masked gunmen in a black Mercedes and two white vans kidnapped the seven cyclists on a road in the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border. The use of the three vehicles tells me there was a degree of premeditation for the abduction, so I would think the kidnappers knew exactly where the cyclists were going to be. The Bekaa Valley is an area that has a high degree of Hezbollah presence, as well as radical Palestinian groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLPGC). There is going to be a tremendous amount of interest from the various Western intelligence services due to the long history of criminal abductions that have taken place in Lebanon. In the 1980s we had hostages that were kidnapped from France, Germany, the U.S. and even South Korea, so there are going to be many different intelligence services wanting to know what has unfolded and working with the Estonian security services to try to help.
The primary concern from the U.S. perspective of why we would be laser-fixated on this abduction is, again, we want to be able to know who was behind this to try to safeguard Americans in Lebanon, as well as the official diplomats. We have very recent information that two suspects have been arrested linked to the criminal abductions, and the concern is that they may be linked to radical Palestinian groups that are very close to the Libyan regime. The concern would be, as we’ve written about at STRATFOR and discussed, is Libya reverting back to terrorism as a means to strike back at the NATO forces currently engaged in the efforts in Libya?
A lot of people may not know that a common criminal abduction in Lebanon can turn into a political hostage- taking. In many occasions you will have common criminals actually do the initial abduction and then the hostages would be sold to a terrorist organization like Hezbollah or a radical Palestinian group such as the PFLPGC. There is a long history of that specific M.O. utilized in the Bekaa Valley as well as Beirut. Although the verdict’s still out as to who specifically did these abductions, we need to be closely looking at this to see if this is a political act of terrorism which has been Libyan-directed or backed, or is this simple criminal kidnapping for the purposes of paying a ransom.