BEIRUT: As part of a nationwide crackdown on abductions, Lebanese Army Intelligence arrested Friday a man suspected of kidnapping Youssef Beshara, confiscating and returning most of the $400,000 ransom that had been demanded in return for his release. Security sources identified the man by his last name, Allaw. He was arrested in Beirut’s Shiyah neighborhood.
Beshara, whose brother Anis Beshara owns a popular chain of bakeries, was kidnapped near his home in the Metn’s Bsalim last week.
His daughter paid a $400,000 ransom to her father’s kidnappers, and he was released Tuesday.
During the Friday raid in Shiyah, the Army found $380,000 of the ransom money, and Maj. Walid Salman returned the money to the Beshara family.
The arrest was part of a security plan put into place Wednesday to tackle the growing phenomenon of kidnapping. With the backing of Baabda Palace and the coordination of the country’s security forces, multiple operations have been carried out in the past 48 hours against those suspected of involvement in kidnapping.
“The security operation will continue to reassert the state’s full authority in the country,” Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told The Daily Star over the telephone Friday.
Earlier this week, the Army freed 45-year-old Fouad Daoud from captivity after a Wednesday raid in Baalbek that sparked an armed confrontation between his captors and Army Intelligence units.
Daoud was abducted last week in the Bekaa city of Zahle. His kidnappers demanded $250,000 in ransom during several phone conversations with his children. One person was arrested in connection with the abduction.
Ali Ahmad Mansour, a 73-year-old financier who was snatched Tuesday by an armed group in the Bekaa, remains in captivity.
Charbel said Army Intelligence units raided several houses in the Bekaa’s Brital area Friday, and arrested suspects believed to be behind Mansour’s kidnapping.
“Several people were arrested today by the Army and we are close to locating Mansour and freeing him,” Charbel added.
He said there had been an increase in the groups carrying out kidnappings in the past few months because of the instability in Syria and Lebanon’s own turbulent political situation. “If the Lebanese were united, the state would be stronger and these types of incidents would not take place,” he added.
In an attempt to strengthen the cooperation between the Army and other security forces, officials from the Internal Security Forces and General Security met Thursday at the Defense Ministry in Yarzeh.
Voicing optimism that the rate of kidnappings would dwindle in light of the high-level meetings, Charbel said the recent arrests will be a deterrent for others hoping to carry out kidnappings.
“The success of some [earlier] kidnappings encouraged the emergence of new gangs and new kidnappings,” he added.
Charbel stressed that those behind the recent spate of kidnappings were not backed by politicians or political parties. “The members of these gangs already have arrest warrants and are being pursued by the police ... They have no political cover whatsoever,” the minister said.
Meanwhile, Military Investigative Judge Imad Zein issued arrest warrants for Maher Meqdad, the Meqdad clan spokesperson, as well as Hasan Meqdad and Taher Sultan. The men, who were already in custody, were promptly served with the warrants.
Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr charged the three men Thursday with “forming an armed group to [undermine] the prestige of the state, kidnapping citizens and threatening to kill them, as well as the possession of unlicensed weapons and explosives.”
Maher Meqdad was arrested last week by Army Intelligence units after they raided his house in the Beirut southern suburb of Haret Hreik.
In August, the Meqdads snatched over two dozen Syrian nationals in addition to a Turkish businessman in retaliation for the Damascus kidnapping of their relative, Hassan Meqdad.
Most of the hostages were released shortly after their Aug. 13 abduction, but the Turkish national and four Syrians were held longer – the latter accused of being members of the rebel Free Syrian Army.
Under pressure from the Lebanese Army, the armed clan released Turkish businessman Aydin Tufan Tekin on Sept. 11, nearly a month after it kidnapped him.
Two days later, Turkish citizen Abdulbasit Arslan was handed over to General Security by Al-Mukhtar Al-Thaqafi, the armed group who claimed responsibility for holding him hostage for almost a month.
The remaining four Syrian hostages were freed in a Lebanese Army raid last week.
Lebanon has been hit by a wave of kidnappings since the unrest in Syria began last year. Last year three Al-Jasem brothers and a former Syrian Baathist leader were kidnapped in Beirut; in May 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims were kidnapped by a Syrian opposition faction near Aleppo.
While one of the 11 men was released earlier this month, the remaining pilgrims have been left in limbo as competing efforts to secure their release have pitted the government against Sunni figures and politicians from the March 14 coalition.