The Business of Kidnapping in Lebanon

The security services cordoned off the Baalbeck village of Brital, where Zeidan was being held, and told the kidnappers that they would storm the place. (Photo: AFP – Joseph Eid)
Published Saturday, March 30, 2013
In Lebanon, kidnapping for ransom has become seen as a quick path to riches. The country’s wave of kidnappings, many undertaken by organized criminal groups, perhaps began with the abduction of seven Estonian tourists in March 2011. The kidnappers’ demand: $4 million.

The security services spared no effort to free the hostages, but to no avail. Ultimately, the perpetrators collected their ransom, and then vanished. While the Lebanese police apprehended some of those involved, the masterminds behind the Estonians’ abduction remain at large.

Five months later, on the morning of 26 August 2011, unidentified gunmen abducted Syrian businessman Mohammed Ammar and his accountant Nour Qaddoura along the international highway near the town of Barelias. Shortly after, the kidnappers demanded a reported ransom of $4 million. With a cleric acting as mediator, the hostage was released upon receipt of $1 million.

In the meantime, Mohammed Fayyad Ismail became infamous after his arrest at the hands of Lebanese Military Intelligence. Ismail was behind several kidnappings, most prominently Liban Lait CEO Ahmad Zeidan.

Lebanese Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri intervened personally to secure Zeidan’s release. The security services cordoned off the Baalbeck village of Brital, where Zeidan was being held, and told the kidnappers that they would storm the place.
 Eventually, the kidnappers agreed to release Zeidan. A theatrical ploy was staged wherein it would appear that the Liban Lait CEO had managed to escape his captors.

After that, kidnappings rolled along, one after the other. Kidnappers were enticed by lucrative earnings, and carried out a total of 37 abductions.

One remarkable aspect of the abductions is the level of coordination between gangs. For instance, while one group may carry out the actual kidnapping, the other might handle ransom negotiations. In other cases, one group would kidnap a designated victim and then “sell” the hostage to another group. These methods were widely used in carjacking operations, where stolen cars would be traded throughout the Bekaa Valley.

Consequently, there may not be a direct link between the kidnappers and the negotiators.

Different criminal gangs have different methods. While some stick to their ransom amounts, others are willing to negotiate. According to security reports, many of these gangs are seasoned professionals, not carrying cell phones during operations. Likewise, ransom negotiators use “burner” phones.

Security sources also indicate that though some kidnappings may be random, others are tipped off by individuals close to the targets, as was the case with Dr. Mona Kanj, who was kidnapped in November 2012. In Kanj’s case, the wife of the concierge in her building was related to Mohammed Fayyad Ismail. She allegedly passed on information about the victim’s finances.

Today, the notorious kidnapper Ismail is in prison, while the fate of Hussein al-Hujairi, a name connected to the Estonian case, remains unknown. There is no known link between the two, except for the fact that they have both planned several abductions.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian  
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

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