The Lebanese Army is searching for a group of seven Estonians cycle-tourists who were kidnapped yesterday in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
The army, together with Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces has already carried out several raids in the mountains surrounding the village of Kfar Zabad where it is believed the cyclists may have ben taken to.
The Bekaa Valley has in the past been closely associated with cannabis and opium production and a degree of lawlessness still pervades the area, with armed tribal groupings exerting their influence.
According to the Lebanese press, locals say the Estonians were forced into two vans and a car near the industrial area of Zahle, just a few hours after having crossed Lebanon / Syria border at Masnaa.
The vehicles, from which the registration plates had been removed, are then said to have headed towards Kfar Zabad.
A military base belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is located in the area but the organisation has issued a statement denying any involvement in the kidnapping. The PFLP has stated that it would assist the army in efforts to locate the cyclists “without hesitation or reservation” and condemned the abduction.
Estonia’s consul in Lebanon has confirmed that seven Estonain males are missing. He has travelled to the area in an attempt to discover more about the circumstances of their disappearance and their fate.
Some senior security sources believe the kidnapping may be related to the Western coalition’s airstrikes on Libya and Col Gaddafi's threats against Western interests.
One source suggested that the speed with which the Estonians were kidnapped after entering the country indicates they were already under surveillance while in Syria.
The Estonians’ bikes and belongings have been recovered by security forces at the spot where the abduction took place, suggesting they were not targeted for anything other than their value as human bargaining chips.
While Lebanon is still linked in may people’s minds with the kidnapping of Westerners, there have been few incidents since the high profile cases of the 1980s, although two Polish nationals were briefly held captive in September.