BEIRUT: An official at the Netherlands Embassy in Beirut Thursday confirmed that two Dutch diplomats were last month snatched and driven to Syria before being released.
“We don’t think it’s a kidnap,” deputy head of mission Hans Peter van der Woude told The Daily Star Thursday, but confirmed that the diplomats were taken to Syria, during the daytime, “against their will.”
He said the couple, who were driving a car with diplomatic embassy plates, were “stopped on May 24 on a public road north of Baalbek by local people who never confirmed their identity and were taken to Syrian authorities in Syria.”
“The Syrian authorities noticed that they were taken across the border in an informal way,” Woude said, adding that the kidnappers were asked to return the diplomats to Lebanon the same day.
He would not reveal the names of the diplomats in line with embassy rules.
In response to a question, Woude said the embassy had not taken extra precautionary measures following the abduction, saying that the Baalbek incident highlights travel advice issued by the Netherlands around a year ago, which, like many travel warnings, advises nationals not to travel in the border area.
Al-Markazia news agency had reported that the Dutch Defense attaché was recently kidnapped in Baalbek and taken to Damascus, where he was released soon after documents revealed his identity.
Security sources confirmed to The Daily Star the brief kidnapping of the two diplomats. They identified the Defense attaché as Commander Paul Flos, without giving details of the second diplomat.
The Defense, Army, Naval and Air Attaché in Lebanon is also accredited in Syria and Iran. He is based in Damascus.
In its report late Wednesday, Al-Markazia quoted a diplomatic source as saying that armed tribesmen from Baalbek snatched the defense attaché of the Netherlands Embassy in Beirut about 10 days ago, put him in an unlicensed four-wheel vehicle with tinted windows, and drove to Syria, through an unofficial border crossing. There was no mention of the second diplomat.
Upon arrival in Syria, according to Al-Markazia, the diplomat was handed over to one of the security checkpoints. But after the ID revealed his identity, the kidnappers were told to return him to Lebanon immediately, the report said.
It said the military attaché immediately informed the Netherlands Embassy in Beirut of the kidnapping.
The report said the Netherlands mission in turn conveyed news of the brief kidnapping to European governments, who exerted intensive contacts with Lebanese security officials to urge them to put an end to the abduction of foreigners.
Woude said the diplomats were "just visiting" the area.
The incident follows the kidnapping in March of seven Estonian nationals in the Bekaa after they cycled across the border from Syria.
A previously unknown group, Haraket Al-Nahda Wal-Islah (Movement for Renewal and Reform), has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping but has yet to make any clear demands.
Two videos of the abducted Estonians have been released and over 10 arrests have been made but there is as yet no solid information on the location of the cyclists.