HERMEL: Maronite Bishop Semaan Atallah was the target of an attempted abduction over the weekend in the eastern town of Zahle by a known group, a security source told The Daily Star.
The infamous gang suspected of plotting the abduction is headed by Mohammad Dorah Jaafar, the source said, adding that the brazen attempt was most likely motivated by a desire for ransom.
On Saturday night, two Toyota four-wheel-drive vehicles chased Atallah's car on the Der Ahmar road but his driver sped in the direction of an Army checkpoint, prompting the alleged kidnappers to flee, the sources added.
Atallah, the head of the Baalbek-Der Ahmar dioceses, confirmed the incident and returned to the diocese in Baalbek to reassure the town's residents as church bells tolled in Der Ahmar in protest of the attempted kidnapping.
"What happened yesterday was a shameful act,” Atallah told reporters at the Baalbek dioceses.
“They [the kidnappers] most probably chased us for the money but the danger lies in the repercussions of what could have happened," he said, saying the motive behind the attempted abduction was not sectarian.
He also urged local figures to work with their Christian counterparts for the good of society.
The bishop also spoke about deteriorating security in the Bekaa Valley, voicing concern that the war in Syria could spill over into Lebanon.
"Each and every one of us should work within their community [to put an end to the chaos] as the area is threatened by rockets and car bombs while the borders remain wide open. We now fear that the war will move to us,” he said.
The dioceses also held a mass celebrating the safe return of the bishop.
Officials and local figures flocked to the dioceses to visit the bishop and voice condemnations over the incident. Visitors included Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, representing Speaker Nabih Berri, Future Movement coordinator in Baalbek Hussein Solh, and the head of the religious committee in Hezbollah, Sheikh Moahmmad Yazbek, as well as Baalbek Mufti Sheikh Khalil Shuqair.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said the "blatant attempt to kidnap the bishop" was one of the many concerns affecting the Bekaa region.
"The phenomenon of abductions must be eradicated if the state wants to regain control of security and coexistence," Rai said during his Sunday sermon at the northern town of Jrebta. "Words of compassion and condemnations are no longer sufficient,”