BEIRUT // A Kuwaiti man kidnapped in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley region on Saturday was released late on Monday night after spending two days being held hostage by unknown abductors.
Essam Al Houti, who is believed to be in his fifties, was taken from his car by a group of gunmen near the town of Howsh Al Ghanem on Saturday.
The abduction came just days after Kuwait, the UAE and several other Gulf states warned their nationals to leave Lebanon, amid heightened tensions in the country over the crisis in Syria.
Lebanese and Kuwaiti officials had stressed that Mr Al Houti's abduction - in an area where there have been a number of recent kidnappings by criminal gangs for ransom - was neither politically motivated nor linked to the Syrian conflict.
After his release, however, Mr Al Houti said his kidnappers had accused him of involvement in the 17-month uprising against the regime of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad.
"They accused me of terrorism and that I am a commander of the terrorist Free [Syrian] Army," he said. "I told them I have nothing to do with politics."
Mr Al Houti's statement could exacerbate the sharp political rifts that his kidnapping exposed in Kuwait.
Those tensions - and the fears that other Gulf citizens may be in greater danger as the civil war in Syria spills into neighbouring countries - are likely to escalate.
"The kidnapping brought the Syrian conflict a lot closer to home," said Fouad Al Obaid, a columnist for the Kuwait Times. "It has raised a lot of concerns about Syria and Iran, and the implications on Kuwait."
Kuwait has maintained a tentative policy toward Syria so far, standing with other Gulf states in support of the Syrian opposition, but still friendly with Mr Al Assad's biggest supporter, Iran.
Mr Al Houti's kidnapping seems to have thrown off that balancing act.
"Unfortunately, the kidnapping was used to raise sectarian grudges," said Abdullah Al Shayji, the head of the political science department at Kuwait University.
Just hours after Mr Al Houti was kidnapped, accusations of foul play began to swirl at home. An engineer who works with Kuwait's state oil company, he comes from a prominent Sunni family and the local media carried lengthy speculation about an Iranian-linked Hizbollah conspiracy to abduct him.
Walid Al Tabtabae, a Kuwaiti MP and a member of the Salafi bloc, had said Kuwait's public works minister, Fadhel Safar, one of the few Shia in the highest ranks of the government, should be sacked if Mr Al Houti was not immediately released.
A fellow Salafi MP, Khalid Al Sultan Ben Essa, suggested that Kuwait should expel all Lebanese expatriates residing there if Mr Al Houti was not freed.
In initial reports, the local press also incorrectly reported that Mr Al Houti's car had a Qatari license plate, which might have put him at risk to would-be kidnappers looking for retribution for Doha's backing of Syrian rebels.
Several MPs, including the liberal Mohammed Al Saqer, criticised the sectarian accusations over the weekend and the two Salafi MPs have since qualified their statements.
The public attention, however, did not fade. "Kuwait is a small country and when someone is kidnapped, it raises a lot of awareness," said Al Obaid.
Mr Al Shayji said the Kuwaiti emir had personally intervened to assist the foreign ministry's efforts.
Michel Suleiman, Lebanon's president, yesterday said he hoped that the incident would not have a negative impact on the relationship between Kuwait and his country and stressed that those responsible would be held accountable.
Mr Al Houti, who is married to a Lebanese woman, had recently arrived in Lebanon on holiday, according to relatives. He was believed to have returned to Kuwait yesterday afternoon.
His kidnapping followed a spate of abductions in Lebanon this month. More than 20 Syrians and a Turkish national were taken hostage by the Moqdad clan in retaliation for the capture of a relative in Syria. Many of the Syrians have been released.