BEIRUT: Lebanese troops rescued a Saudi citizen kidnapped over the weekend in Beirut, the army said on Tuesday. The man reportedly had been held for ransom.
A statement by the Lebanese military said that Mushari Al-Mutairi was released in a “special operation” along the Lebanon-Syria border, where the kidnappers had held him hostage.
Al-Mutairi was kidnapped after midnight on Saturday in Beirut.
Saudi TV station Al-Ekhbariya said that the kidnappers demanded a $400,000 ransom for Al-Mutairi, who works for Saudia, the Kingdom’s national airline.
— العربية السعودية (@AlArabiya_KSA) May 30, 2023
A security source told Arab News that Al-Mutairi was leaving a Beirut nightclub, Karizma, on the waterfront and was driving home in the Aramoun area when he was forced by five armed masked men inside their four-wheel drive.
The kidnappers then headed toward the Bekaa Valley, to the town of Qasr on the Lebanese-Syrian border, where there are many illegal crossings and gangs smuggling people, goods and prohibited items, the source said.
Those who kidnapped Al-Mutairi in Beirut were separate from the group that held the Saudi in the border area, he added.
“These are organized gangs. Some are responsible for monitoring and kidnapping in Lebanese areas and collecting their money upon delivering the kidnapped person to the town of Qasr in the northern Bekaa region, where another group asks for ransom and blackmails the family of the kidnapped person until they get the money. We have previously observed many similar kidnapping cases that have no relation to any political side, but their aim is to kidnap for ransom,” he said.
“Those who carried out the criminal operation are a group of the Jaafar family, led by Hussein Saadoun Jaafar. After the army intelligence was alerted to the kidnapping incident, they took security measures on the ground and carried out raids in the Shrawneh neighborhood in the city of Baalbek, where some of those involved in the kidnapping live, and we arrested a woman from the Jaafar family,” the source added.
“When criminals break the rules, we break them ourselves to put pressure on the kidnappers. Later, in a secret security operation in the Qasr area, we managed to retrieve the kidnapped person and arrest some of those involved within Lebanese territory, while others managed to escape toward Syrian territory,” he said.
“Qasr is one of the Lebanese regions that overlap with Syrian territories, and the Lebanese security forces cannot carry out any security operations on Syrian land,” the source said.
The security source described the gang that kidnapped Al-Mutairi as “an organized group that buys and sells the abductees.”
He added that a special security team freed Al-Mutairi, who was unharmed and in good health. “The number of detainees so far has reached 12.”
The source said: “The fugitive Hussein Saadoun Jaafar, after a few hours of the security operation, sneaked into the Al-Sharawneh neighborhood in Baalbek and opened fire on a Lebanese army center and the homes of officers and soldiers in the area, but no one was injured. The army continues to pursue the wanted individuals in this area.”
The source added: “During the Syrian war and Hezbollah’s involvement in this war, the border area in the town of Qasr turned into an area outside the control of the state, where loose weapons abound and armed men are empowered by the political environment surrounding it.”
Al-Mutairi was transferred to the Saudi embassy in Beirut in the afternoon and was received by Ambassador Walid Bukhari.
The envoy said in a statement: “The released Saudi citizen is in good health, and we thank the army and internal security forces. The security efforts confirm the Lebanese authorities’ keenness to secure tourism security.”
Bassam Mawlawi, Lebanon’s caretaker interior minister, went to the embassy and said after meeting Bukhari: “The army carried out search and investigation operations in northern Bekaa and up to the border. Through the coordination of the agencies, the desired outcome was achieved. All security agencies are serious in combating crime.”
Mawlawi said that the kidnapping “does not affect Saudi-Lebanon relations, as they are stable and entrenched, and no one can threaten or shake them.”
Army chief Joseph Aoun was the first to announce the freeing of Al-Mutairi.
The rescue has created an atmosphere of relief in Lebanon, and there is a consensus on the importance of maintaining good relations with Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati praised the army’s efforts.
Mikati said: “We are keen to ensure the return of all Arab brothers to Lebanon and to prevent any threat to them, as well as to prevent the use of Lebanese territory as a launching pad for any action that threatens the security and safety of Arab countries.”
Former President Michel Sleiman praised “the Lebanese army that saved Lebanon's reputation in front of the Kingdom, the Arab League and the international community after the successful Jeddah summit.”
Former prime minister Fouad Siniora said: “An important part of the problems facing the Lebanese people is due to the decline of the state’s prestige and authority, as well as the domination of illegitimate forces over it and its institutions.”