BEIRUT — The Lebanese Army rescued a Saudi citizen who had been kidnapped Sunday in Lebanon, freeing him Tuesday morning from a town close to the Syrian-Lebanese border and arresting his alleged kidnappers, according to L’Orient Today’s correspondent and a Lebanese Army statement.
The army said in a statement that they carried out "a special operation on the border [with Syria] to arrest the kidnappers and free the Saudi man."
The Saudi man, Machari al-Maïtari, is still in Hermel in the Bekaa with Army Intelligence to provide his statement, a security source confirmed to L’Orient Today.
Security sources also confirmed that the operation is ongoing to search for suspects in the kidnapping, after which the Saudi man will be transported back to Beirut.
The army arrested dozens of suspects and wanted persons, and seized large quantities of weapons, military ammunition, and materials for manufacturing Captagon, the sources said.
Raids in the Bekaa
The Lebanese army said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that it raided the houses of those involved in the kidnapping, as well as a Captagon manufacturing facility owned by the suspects. One of the suspects shot at the home of a soldier and an army barracks, which led to an armed clash. There were no reported injuries.
At a joint press conference with Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari, caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said that "the army, in coordination with other security bodies, carried out searches from the northern Bekaa to the [Syrian] border, which led to the release" of the Saudi national.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati tweeted Tuesday that the authorities will continue to “control the security situation and will not allow any threat to the security of the Lebanese and other nationals residing in Lebanon.”
“We are keen on the return of all Arab brothers to Lebanon and preventing any threat to them, in addition to preventing the use of Lebanese territory as a starting point for any action that threatens the security and safety of Arab countries,” Mikati concluded.
Mawlawi told Al Jadeed that the Interior Ministry “worked by integrating and unifying efforts with the army commander, which led to the liberation of the Saudi kidnapped by the army intelligence in the Bekaa region.”
Mawlawi met with Army Commander Aoun in Yarzeh after their joint collaboration to free the man.
The Saudi newspaper Okaz tweeted Monday evening that the kidnapped man works for the Saudia airline in Beirut and that “the kidnappers …demanded — via a call issued from the southern suburbs of Beirut — a ransom of $400,000” for his release.
A Lebanese security source had reported to AFP Monday night that the Saudi man was abducted as he was exiting a restaurant.
No impact on relations with Saudi Arabia
During his press conference with Bukhari, Mawlawi added that the kidnapping "has not impacted relations with Saudi Arabia, which are solid and sacred and cannot be threatened or destabilized."
Mawlawi insisted that Lebanon is ready to face "anyone who tries to disturb relations with the Arab brothers."
For his part, Bukhari thanked "the Lebanese army, the Internal Security Forces, as well as Minister Mawlawi, for having worked from the first hours [since the kidnapping] until the end of the operation with professionalism and speed." He ensured that "the security efforts deployed show that the Lebanese authorities are keen to ensure the safety of tourists."
An Iraqi man was kidnapped from Jounieh, Kesrouan governorate, in April and was freed by the army two days later. A Syrian man was kidnapped in Aley the same month, shortly after his arrival in Lebanon from Dubai. He was later freed by Internal Security Forces.
Last July, Saudi political dissident Manea al-Yami was killed in Lebanon. Lebanon's Internal Security Forces said his two brothers stabbed him to death in a family dispute.
Reporting contributed by Sara Abdallah