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Lebanon frees kidnapped Saudi national, arrests nine suspects -officials

Lebanon frees kidnapped Saudi national, arrests nine suspects -officials
Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi speaks during a press conference at the Interior Ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, 16 May 2022. EPA-EFE/WAEL HAMZEH

Lebanon's army intelligence freed a Saudi national who was abducted on Sunday in Beirut and also arrested some of those involved, the army announced on Tuesday.

An online army statement said that Saudi citizen Mashari al-Mutairi had been freed in an operation along the Lebanese border with Syria.

Saudi’s state-run Al Ekhbariya television station reported late on Monday that a man working for Saudi Arabian Airlines had been kidnapped in the Lebanese capital on Sunday, and that those responsible had demanded a $400,000 ransom.

In a press conference at the Saudi embassy after Mutairi’s release, Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said that no ransom was paid, and that Lebanese security forces had taken nine people into custody over the kidnapping.

Mawlawi said the incident would not impact diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Ties between the two countries withered in 2021, when the kingdom and other Gulf states withdrew their envoys following years of frustration at the growing influence of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement over Lebanon’s state.

They sent ambassadors back to Beirut in April 2022.

Saudi Ambassador Waleed al-Bukhari told reporters on Tuesday that he had been in close contact with Lebanese authorities over the kidnapping, thanking them for their “professionalism and speed” in dealing with the incident.

He said Mutairi was in good health but did not comment on how ties between the two countries may be impacted.

In 2017, a Saudi national was abducted in Lebanon as tensions between the two countries were on the rise.

Security sources have told Reuters that kidnappings-for-ransom, usually of children, have increased as a way to make large amounts of cash in a country suffering an almost four-year-long financial meltdown.

They said captives are often taken to remote areas near the porous Syrian-Lebanese border and sometimes even across into Syria to evade capture by Lebanese security forces.

(Reporting by Clauda Tanios and Maya Gebeily; editing by Bernadette Baum and Mark Heinrich)

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