The locals aren’t always friendly

I wondered, as I wrote the April 19 post about two young Canadian women who are bicycling the ancient Silk Road between Europe and China, about the dangers they might face as they pass through some very remote, sometimes turbulent, territory.

Seven Estonian cyclists in a YouTube video pleading for their release

An example of the perils to adventurers posed by locals who are not always friendly and welcoming is the case of seven Estonian cyclists who were kidnapped on March 23 in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley shortly after they crossed the border into northeastern Lebanon from Syria.
On Tuesday, reported the French news agency Agence France-Presse, a video of the captive cyclists, pleading for their release, was uploaded to YouTube. AFP said that a Lebanese website, Lebanon Files, received a tip on Wednesday about the video, uploaded by a user identified only as “thekidnaper2011.”
The video, which has since been taken down, runs for one minute and 47 seconds and shows each of seven men begging for help in English. The men, wearing cycling attire, appeared disheveled, tired and frightened but unharmed.
“We are turning to you, prime minister of Lebanon Saad al-Hariri, the King of Saudi Arabia King Abdullah, the King of Jordan King Abdullah, the President of France Mr. Sarkozy, please do anything to help us to get back home,” said one of the seven quoted by AFP.
“Please give what (the kidnappers) have asked … please make everything to get us back home to our families as soon as possible.”
“This is a really difficult situation,” said another. “Please do anything, do everything, what it takes to get us home.”
“Help us” and “Please help us,” said others.
AFP said YouTube removed the video hours after news of the posting broke, saying that “its content violated YouTube’s terms of service.”
The news agency Aljazeera quoted Lebanese security forces as saying that “masked gunmen in a black Mercedes and two white vans with no licence plates kidnapped the foreigners on a road between Zahle, a mostly Christian town, and Kfar Zabed, a mixed Sunni-Christian town.”
An unidentified official told AFP: “The vehicles headed toward the eastern Bekaa village of Kfar Zabed near where there is a post for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).”
Local television quoted a PFLP-GC official as saying that the Palestinian group had nothing to do with the abduction of the Estonians.
CNN Correspondent Arwa Damon described the border region where the men were abducted as “very porous” and said that it is a “very difficult” place for even “Lebanese authorities to navigate.”

Lebanese security personnel with the bicycles of the abducted Estonians. Photo by Reuters

On Wednesday, Estonia’s foreign ministry confirmed that the seven men seen in the video were indeed the tourists from the Baltic state.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said in a statement Wednesday: “It appears from the video that all seven abducted Estonian citizens are alive and well. However, it is not known when the clip was recorded. The message did not include the conditions of the victims’ release, any demands, or information on who is behind the abduction.”
Speaking to reporters in Tallinn, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said: “No requests have been presented to Estonian authorities in regard of the kidnapping.”
A previously unheard of group, Haraket Al-Nahda Wal-Islah (Movement for Renewal and Reform), claimed in an e-mail to the website Lebanon Files that it was responsible for the kidnapping and demanded an unspecified ransom to free the Estonians. But the e-mail had not be authenticated by security officials.


1 Comment

Filed under Politics, Travels

One response to “The locals aren’t always friendly

  1. John Vandevelde

    This blogpost and your prior one are so intriguing and together could be entitled, “‘The [Ecstacy and the Agony]’–of World Touring.” Experiencing the adventure without the disaster involves some good judgment (not saying the Estonians did not have that) and a lot of good luck. I feel very bad for the young men and hope to soon read a blogpost reporting that they have been released unharmed.

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