Manhunt for five Czechs missing in Lebanon

Beqaa Valley, Lebanon, photo: Nassif.seif / Public Domain

The Czech foreign ministry has confirmed that five Czech nationals are missing in eastern Lebanon, although specific details – such as the names of the missing – have been deliberately withheld for security reasons. The ministry says a “massive” manhunt is now underway to locate the group.

Beqaa Valley, Lebanon, photo: Nassif.seif / Public Domain
What is known is that five Czechs aged between 25 and 47 were travelling with a local driver near the Syrian border. Their abandoned car was found on Saturday by local security forces near the town of Kefraya in the Beqaa Valley area. The group’s passports and other personal effects such as money and cameras were reportedly left behind in the car, enabling authorities to quickly identify the missing.

A manhunt is now underway to locate the Czechs amidst fears that they may have been kidnapped, either for financial or political reasons. Local Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star reported additional details on the case on Monday, giving the names of the five missing Czechs. The paper also identified the group’s driver as Daeb Taan Fayyad, brother of Ali Fayaad – a man “arrested in Prague in 2014 on terrorism and drug trafficking charges, and facing extradition by U.S. authorities.”

The suggestion is that the Czechs may have been kidnapped as part of a plan to exchange them for Ali Fayaad.

Ali Fayaad in 2014, photo: CTK
Meanwhile the French-language Lebanese paper L’Orient Le Jour cited a local military source saying the missing Czechs were two journalists, a lawyer, interpreter – and the fifth being a highly placed security official on a first visit to Lebanon, and using an assumed name. The paper’s source also suggested that the group were undertaking a “journalistic” mission and had already carried out two television interviews shortly before their disappearance. One of the interviews was with the head of a local council, touching upon issues related to Jihadists fighting in the Lebanese area around Arsal, which has seen ISIS activity in the last year. Interviews also covered Syrian refugee camps in the region.

Separate reports suggested that the Czech group had already entered the country in mid-May, left on July 1, and then returned to the country before they went missing.

I spoke to Michaela Lagronová, a press spokesperson for the Czech Foreign Ministry, who declined to comment when asked about these reports:

“We are missing five Czech nationals in Lebanon. A huge military and police action is underway in order to find them. The Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek is in close touch with his Lebanese counterpart…”.

And the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star has listed what it says are the identities of the missing Czechs, but they don’t sound like Czech names. Could you comment on this?

Illustrative photo: Olga Vasinkevich
“We are looking for five Czech nationals. That is all I can confirm for the moment. I will not comment on any speculation spread in the Czech and Lebanese media.”

Foreign Minister Zaorálek also confirmed that many security services operated in this region, and that the Czech Republic will seek out such help as needed. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka praised the Lebanese authorities for their strong cooperation with the Czech government in this case and the foreign ministry for its rapid reaction to the incident.