Czechs abducted in Lebanon freed

Photo: CTK
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In a brief statement issued on Monday evening the Czech foreign minister announced that five Czechs kidnapped in Lebanon last summer had been freed. The men are reportedly in reasonable health and are due home on Wednesday. However, questions remain about their release and there is speculation that it may have come at a price.

Photo: CTK
The Czechs – a lawyer, a military intelligence officer, an interpreter and two TV reporters – had been travelling in Lebanon last July when they went missing.

The circumstances surrounding their abduction were rather murky and the group largely disappeared from the news radar.

On Monday, however, the news website Neovlivni.cz reported that the kidnappers had just issued demands in exchange for their release.

Hours later, the Czech foreign minister, Lubomir Zaorálek, announced that the five were in the hands of the Lebanese security forces.

Speaking to Czech Radio from Oman, the diplomacy chief responded to suggestions that two of the five had health problems.

Lubomír Zaorálek, photo: CTK
“For us, especially given the fact that it could be far worse, the most important fact is that we can regard their state of health as satisfactory. By this I mean that there aren’t such serious problems as would need immediate treatment. I’m glad that they are alive and that their health is satisfactory.”

One of the abductees, the lawyer, had been in Lebanon in connection with the case of Ali Fayad, a reported member of the Lebanese secret services who a Czech court has ruled can be extradited to the US on charges of supporting terrorism.

Neovlivni.cz said that the kidnappers had demanded Mr. Fayad’s release in exchange for the five and suggested the handover was the result of a deal.

Supporting this, Respekt reported that the Czech government had approved the quid pro quo some time ago.

The weekly says the minister of justice, Robert Pelikán, was minded to overrule the extradition verdict rather than risk the lives of the five.

For his part, Mr. Zaorálek refused to be drawn on that question.

“We don’t provide any information of this kind. The case is still being investigated. There are many questions that must be answered. So it is not only up to me as the foreign minister to comment on the case. We are now preparing their transfer. Everything else is in the hands of the police’s organised crime unit.”

Ali Fayad, photo: CTK
Future developments should make clear whether Prague has indeed agreed to let Mr. Fayad go.

Respekt reported that the Czech cabinet believes such a move would be worth the cost of a brief deterioration of relations with Washington.

The US accuses Mr. Fayad and two other men of attempting to sell weapons and cocaine to American agents posing as members of Colombia’s FARC.