BEIRUT: The Higher Defense Council promised swift action Wednesday against a wave of kidnappings as authorities announced that progress had been made in recent cases.
The news came as Nazih Nassar, who was abducted around one month ago, was released in the Bekaa Valley. The National News Agency said a jeep dumped Nassar on the road at the entrance to the village of Brital and sped off.
The NNA said Nassar made it safely home and denied that a ransom had been paid for his release. He was abducted in the town of Torbol and media reports indicated that the family was asked to pay a $2 million, non-negotiable ransom.
The Army said its Intelligence Unit thwarted two kidnapping attempts over the weekend after it tracked down two gangs and raided their homes, while the Internal Security Forces announced five other suspects in recent kidnappings were arrested by the police this month.
The Army issued a statement that said Musa Ali Harb was allegedly involved in a plot to kidnap a Lebanese expatriate visiting the country.
“After receiving information that Musa Ali Harb was planning to kidnap an expatriate named Ali Sabah, an Army unit then raided Harb’s residence in Beirut and detained him on Feb. 23,” the statement said, adding that the arrest had been made after closely monitoring Harb’s movements.
The statement also said an Army intelligence unit had foiled another kidnapping attempt that was being allegedly planned by a Syrian man identified as Ziad Abidine al-Jamal.
Jamal, who was arrested in the Zahirieh neighborhood of Tripoli, was working with accomplices to kidnap the son of the owner of Al-Mir Bakeries in Tripoli, the statement said.
It added that the gang was planning to demand $1 million in ransom.
The army said it was pursuing leads in order to arrest any accomplices in the two cases.
For its part, the ISF said three suspects in the abduction of 66-year-old Najib Youssef Youssef had been arrested in the southern city of Tyre. Youssef was kidnapped earlier this month and released five days later. The kidnappers had demanded $3 million for his release, but it wasn’t known how much money was paid to win his release.
Two suspects in the case, who were identified only by their initials, were arrested last Tuesday and the third last Friday, the ISF said.
The statement added that the ISF arrested Tuesday two other individuals believed to be involved in the kidnapping of a Syrian man, Ayman Badr Sabbagh, earlier this month.
“During interrogations with the arrested men, they admitted that they carried out the kidnapping with the help of others,” the statement said.
A wave of kidnappings over the past two years began by targeting wealthy businesspeople, and has recently seen the children of well-off individuals targeted by criminals. The latest incident was the abduction of a 12-year-old boy outside his house in a Beirut neighborhood. The boy was released days later after his family reportedly paid a $250,000 ransom.
Security sources told The Daily Star that the Internal Security Forces and the Army had identified at least 30 suspects involved in acts of kidnapping. The sources said that Army officials briefed participants in Wednesday’s session of the Higher Defense Council about a total of 37 suspects who are being sought by the authorities.
According to the sources, President Michel Sleiman urged the Army and senior security officials to bring the suspects to justice as soon as possible.
“Sleiman said during the meeting that whoever the kidnappers are and wherever they are from, they should be arrested at all costs,” a source said.
The Higher Defense Council said it also discussed Israeli violations of national sovereignty and incidents of “unrest” in the northeast of the country, as security bodies and ministries were instructed to deal with the threats.
Meanwhile, Lebanese leaders denounced the spate of kidnappings and called on citizens throughout the country to help the security forces arrest the perpetrators.
In a televised speech Wednesday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah called the rash of kidnappings a “dangerous precedent.”
“We will not give anyone involved in kidnappings political cover and shelter,” Nasrallah said. “There are no streets and regions that are closed to the police and I call on all citizens to help them to catch the kidnappers,” he added. “Such money is the worst kind of money, it is fully rejected because it destroys homes, families and the country.”