Lebanon News

Mastermind of Estonian kidnapping in police custody

The seven Estonian tourists wave to photographers as they stand at the balcony of the French embassy, in Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday July 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT: The mastermind behind the abduction of seven Estonian tourists two years ago and a series of other abductions, including of foreign journalists, was arrested over the weekend in east Lebanon, the police said in a statement Thursday.

The man, who security sources identified as Hussein Hujeiri, was apprehended in a mountainous area near the Baalbek village of Ras Baalbek Sunday night by a special unit from the ISF Information Branch in coordination with the judiciary, the ISF said in a statement.

“In light of the kidnapping of seven Estonians in the Bekaa Valley on March 23, 2011, and an investigation carried out by the Information Branch that led to the arrest of most of those involved in the kidnapping, the mastermind of the operation was identified as Lebanese H. A. H., born in 1983,” it said.

Police sources said Hujeiri confessed during interrogations to the Estonians’ kidnapping, as well as two other high-profile security incidents.

The statement added that the ISF was able to prove Hujeiri headed the group that ordered the kidnapping of the seven Europeans upon instructions from an official in Al-Qaeda’s Iraqi wing.

It said the suspect held the hostages in several places on the outskirts of the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal.

The police also said the Lebanese national had ordered the kidnapping of other foreigners, particularly after a sizeable ransom was paid in return for the release of the Estonians in July 2011.

The statement said that on Sept. 10, 2011, Hujeiri traded fire with an ISF patrol that tried to arrest him in Arsal and then later crossed into Syria after suffering wounds.

The group that Hujeiri headed also allegedly ambushed an Information Branch patrol in the Bekaa Valley on Sept. 16 of the same year, killing First Sgt. Elias Nasrallah. The statement added that the detainee was allegedly involved in the kidnapping of three BBC journalists and transferring them to Syria, where they were later released.

He also allegedly played a direct role in the March kidnapping of Hussein Jaafar, whose abduction triggered tit-for-tat kidnappings between his clan and residents of Arsal. Jaafar was released in April in an exchange of captives.

The sources said Hujeiri confessed to his involvement in Nasrallah’s killing, and the Jaafar kidnapping, as well as the case of the Estonians.

The statement said the Information Branch had failed to arrest Hujeiri after spotting him on several occasions over the past year and a half.

President Michel Sleiman congratulated the ISF the arrest, calling for “the arrest of all the wanted for assaulting the ISF in Arsal and Beddawi.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 03, 2013, on page 1.




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