AMCHIT, Lebanon: A 6-year-old boy who disappeared from in front of his building in the coastal town of Amchit over the weekend told his father that he is refusing to eat until he is set free. The captors of Ricardo Jaara are demanding a $250,000 ransom for his release, the boy’s family told The Daily Star.
The captors reportedly told the family to deliver the money “when [they] have it,” according to the boy’s uncle, Bassam Saade. They contacted them from a Syrian number. The boy’s whereabouts are still unknown.
Some media reports suggested that the boy was being held on the Syrian-Lebanese border in the north.
The boy was allowed to speak briefly with his father by phone. He told him he was refusing to eat, according to the family.
Ricardo’s father immediately flew in from Kuwait, where he is an engineer. He was not available to speak to reporters, and Ricardo’s mother refused to speak as well.
Saade suspects the captors had some information about the family and had planned the operation in advance. “They [the captors] must be connected to someone in the area. For someone to come and kidnap your son in front of your building in this way is unbelievable. There’s something suspicious here. Someone must have been giving the captors information,” Saade told The Daily Star.
Ricardo and his mother returned Friday from a two-week-long stay in south Lebanon, where they had been visiting family. At around 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Ricardo went down to feed cornflakes to the family’s half-dozen chickens, as he likes to do, and collect any eggs. When he didn’t return to the apartment after a quarter-hour, they began to look for him.
“We started calling everyone. We looked around the building, looked in any well and tank in case he fell in somewhere. We checked the stores nearby. The last thing we expected was that he was kidnapped. He disappeared, along with the chickenfeed he had with him.”
The captors called the family three hours later and demanded $250,000 ransom. The parties remained in contact by phone Sunday.
The Internal Security Forces are questioning the doorman, who is Syrian, and his family. Investigators were still at the apartment Sunday afternoon. An ISF spokesperson refused to comment for fear of jeopardizing the boy’s safety.
Selim Jaara, another one of Ricardo’s uncles, said, “We have a lot of faith in the security forces, and in God, most of all.”
The Jaaras live in a modest building in a residential part of Amchit. There is nothing to distinguish their building from the neighbors’.
Ransom kidnappings in Lebanon have occurred more frequently since the war in Syria deteriorated in 2012.
An engineer was kidnapped near Beirut in January this year, and held for a $39,000 ransom. The ISF later arrested two of the captors.
But the kidnappings have mostly struck in the Bekaa Valley. Captors received a $600,000 ransom for a financier they kidnapped from the Bekaa in 2012. In 2014, a family paid captors several hundred thousand dollars to secure the release of their relative, a Kuwaiti national, who was also kidnapped in the Bekaa.
As part of a nationwide security plan, the government sent a security force of 2,000 personnel to sweep through the Bekaa Valley in February this year. They had arrested 156 people by mid-month.
Ricardo is a bright and sociable boy, according to his family. “He’s very smart and clever,” Saade said. “He is very sociable and he likes to go up and talk to people.”
“He’s not the kind that runs away, he’s not shy,” a visibly distressed Selim said. “And maybe this is his point of weakness. If someone comes to talk to him, he won’t run away. On the contrary, he might get close and talk. It’s something we consider positive, but in this case, it’s negative.”
Ricardo’s grandmother says he is very mature for his age. “He’s successful at school. He’s well-behaved. He has a rich character, like his father. He’s collected. If his friends call for him to play, he’ll say ‘Wait, I have to ask Mama for permission,’” Malika Douma Brahim said.
“I hope they [the captors] treat this child compassionately, if they have children or mercy or pity. It’s unbelievable – haram,” Saade said.