BEIRUT: The alleged mastermind behind the kidnapping of seven Estonian tourists who were released in July possessed an official Venezuelan passport, raising questions about Syria's potential links with the Latin American country.
Wael Abbas, the key player behind the abduction of the seven Estonians, had traveled to Qatar out of Damascus airport on a “genuine” Venezuelan passport, high-ranking security sources told The Daily Star Monday. Original reports of Abbas’ arrest had said the passport was a forgery.
Qatari authorities, who identified Abbas after a picture of the suspect was circulated by Interpol, deported him back to Syria in line with regulations.
Syrian authorities handed Abbas, 29, over to Lebanon’s General Security at the border crossing of Masnaa on Nov. 2.
According to details revealed in an ongoing investigation by the ISF’s information branch, Abbas had planned to fly to Brazil from Qatar.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has maintained links with Syria, in October sending a message of support to President Bashar Assad against what he labeled as U.S. aggression during the Syrian government’s ongoing crackdown on protesters there.
“This question [of links with Venezuala] is still on the table and we are trying to verify the circumstances surrounding it,” one top security source said.
He said security authorities are likely to go over terrorist records traveling from Syria to other countries and involving bombings and assassinations since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“The deteriorating situation in Syria could expose the secrets of terrorist operations that were sponsored by Syria in Lebanon and surrounding countries,” the source added.
The seven Estonian tourists were snatched from their bicycles by armed men on the outskirts of east Lebanon's city of Zahle on March 23. They were released nearly four months later in July.
According to victims’ testimonies, they were frequently transported between Lebanon and Syria during their abduction.
The security sources said an Estonian delegation was in Beirut last week seeking details of Syria’s involvement in the kidnapping of the seven Estonian cyclists following Abbas’ detention.
Abbas, the investigation revealed, was expecting as much as $120,000, but received only $40,000 for masterminding the Estonians’ kidnapping in coordination with Syrian intelligence agents who monitored the tourists’ movement out of Syrian territory into Lebanon.
Abbas is a resident of the Bekaa Valley town of Majdal Anjar, notorious for its pockets of relative lawlessness. He emerged as a prime suspect in April after he fled the scene of a shootout between bandits and Internal Security Forces officers thought to be involved with the kidnapping. Darwish Khanjar, another suspect, was killed in the altercation.
This article was amended on Monday, November 14 2011
The name of the town Abbas comes from was corrected.