2 Accomplices of Mastermind Behind Estonians Kidnapping Killed in Clash with ISF
The Internal Security Forces killed two accomplices of the alleged mastermind behind the kidnapping of seven Estonians during clashes in the area of al-Bireh in Rashaya at midnight, media reports said Tuesday.
The National News Agency said the two men were killed at around 12:30 am after the ISF put iron barricades on a road between al-Bireh and Izza to stop their four-wheeler. But their vehicle veered off its course and hit a wall.
An exchange of gunfire ensued between the ISF and the armed men. The wanted criminals were killed while a Major and another member of the patrol were injured.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a security official told AFP that one of those who died in the shootout was Lebanese and the other was Syrian.
The media reports had said that the mastermind behind the kidnapping Wael Abbas was among the dead but later Voice of Lebanon radio station (93.3) identified the two as Abbas’ aide Mohammed Zarifi and Kanan Yassine.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told LBC TV network that the men were part of a gang that was planning to kidnap other foreigners.
He vowed the security operation would continue until the kidnap gang was nabbed.
"We will continue to hunt them down," Charbel said.
The media reports said that security forces and the Lebanese army were coordinating efforts to find six other suspects.
The gang is allegedly linked to another network specialized in kidnapping foreigners in Iraq.
The ISF said in a statement later on Tuesday that the two suspects’ vehicle contained weapons, hand grenades, a mask, and documents belonging to robbery victims.
The ISF also raided one of the suspects’ apartments where they found more weapons and hand grenades, as well as Tasers and other equipment.
On Friday, two Intelligence Branch officers were injured when they were ambushed by armed men in the hunt for the kidnappers of the Estonians in the village of Jlala near Shtaura.
The seven Estonian cyclists were freed in Lebanon in July, almost four months after armed men abducted them as they entered the country on a bicycle tour from Syria. The abduction has not been officially claimed.