5 Czechs missing in Lebanon held by 'mafia': Lebanon minister
Preliminary investigations into the kidnapping of five Czech citizens in Lebanon last week suggest the case is criminal, Interior Minister Nuhad Mashnuq said on Wednesday.
"We've arrived at the beginning of the end of the thread [of investigations], and it relates to mafias, drug trafficking and weapons," the official National News Agency quoted him as saying.
Mashnuq, who was speaking during a visit to France, did not elaborate further on any leads in the case.
His comments were the first official government comment on the investigation into the missing Czechs.
The five men disappeared in the Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon last Friday, along with a Lebanese citizen believed to have been their driver. The fertile Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon is seen as one most volatile parts of the small country and is home to marijuana farms, with violent family feuds often breaking out. It is also home to several famed vineyards that are popular with tourists and Lebanese alike.
The cause of the abduction has remained a mystery, but there has been speculation it is tied to the case of a Lebanese man in Czech custody, Ali Taan Fayyad.
Fayyad's brother was the Lebanese citizen who was kidnapped, and his defence lawyer was among the Czech group.
Fayyad's family has denied any involvement in the abduction, which was reported after the group's car was found abandoned in the western part of the Bekaa.
Prague has declined to speculate on the case. The Czech foreign ministry has said that it knows the identities of the missing Czechs, but it would not publish their information in order to avoid jeopardising the investigation.
While Westerners have been constant targets of kidnapping in neighbouring Syria in recent years, kidnappings of foreigners have been rare in Lebanon since its 1975-1990 civil war, when some 100 foreigners, mostly Americans and West Europeans, were snatched. However, seven Estonian cyclists were kidnapped in 2011 after crossing from Syria into Lebanon and held for four months.
The circumstances of that incident remain vague, and it was unclear whether a ransom was eventually paid. Earlier that year, two Polish tourists were also briefly captured in the Bekaa Valley but were freed when security forces managed to free them in a fire fight at a checkpoint.