Lebanon News

Diesel, not politics, behind retaliatory Bekaa Valley kidnappings

File - MP Assem Araji,and MP Joseph Abou Khater arrive at the Parliament in Beirut. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Police suspect a financial dispute over smuggled diesel as the reason behind tit-for-tat kidnappings in the northern Bekaa Valley region bordering Syria. A security source told The Daily Star that eight Syrian nationals from Syria’s border village Maara kidnapped Mohammad Toufaili from the north Bekaa Valley village of Brital Wednesday while he was involved in smuggling diesel, taking him and his truck back to their village.

Later that day, Toufaili’s relatives retaliated by kidnapping eight Syrian shepherds from the border. Most of those taken hostage were from the Haidar family, among them the nephew of one of Toufaili’s alleged kidnappers, identified as Faisal Haidar Maarawi.

Mediation efforts have since led to the release of four Syrian hostages.

The source stressed there was no political motivation behind the kidnappings, adding they were likely the result of a financial dispute between partners over the diesel smuggling operation, in which the fuel was transported from Syria into Lebanon across unofficial border crossings in the eastern areas of Baalbek.

The source said it was expected that kidnappers from both sides would complete a full exchange of hostages after mediation efforts were concluded.

Separately, in the Bekaa Valley village of Saadnayel, a Syrian national who was was abducted by armed men in front of his shop 33 days ago was freed Thursday.

Security sources told the Daily Star that the kidnappers initially asked for $500,000 in exchange for the release of businessman Mohammad Lulu, but later lowered the amount to $250,000.

The kidnappers handed Lulu over to his father-in-law, and the family denied any knowledge of whether any of the ransom money was paid.

Sources familiar with the issue said the kidnappers were from the Tleis clan in Brital.

Bassam Tleis, an Amal Movement official, was there to greet the returned hostage, along with Zahle MP Assem Araji from the Future Movement.

Araji thanked Speaker Nabih Berri for securing Lulu’s release. The family of Lulu, had also urged Berri to help secure his release.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 28, 2013, on page 3.

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