x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Kidnapped cyclists send video plea

A group of Estonian cyclists who were abducted in Lebanon have issued a video on YouTube that police say could hold clues as to their location and status.

BEIRUT // Police say they are studying a video posted on YouTube in which kidnapped Estonians beg political leaders for help "to get us back home to our families as soon as possible," according to a newspaper report yesterday.

"I am turning to you, prime minister of Lebanon Saad al Hariri, the king of Saudi Arabia King Abdullah, the king of Jordan King Abdullah and the president of France, Mr Sarkozy, please do anything to help us to get back home," one of the men said in English. "Please [do] everything to get us back home to our families as soon as possible."

The men were kidnapped while cycling in the Bekaa Valley last month. The video, posted late Tuesday, shows the seven men each speaking to the camera, urging the foreign powers to help. The men were taken on March 23 after travelling from Syria. Haraket al Nahda wa al Islah, or the movement for renewal and reform, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping shortly after the men were abducted at gunpoint.

While there have been reports that the kidnappers have demanded a ransom, there has been speculation that the kidnapping was politically motivated.

In an interview published yesterday in the Lebanese newspaper As Safir, Major General Achraf Rifi, the general director of the Internal Security Forces, said the police were considering all possibilities and studying the YouTube video.

There has been no information about the amount of a possible ransom or details on the method payment. Maj Gen Rifi also said it was not clear whether the Estonian men were still in Lebanon or had been transferred outside the country.

Eleven people have so far been charged in connection with the abduction that has shocked many in a country were kidnappings have been rare since the end of Lebanon's 15-year civil war.

In the YouTube video, one of the kidnapped men described their predicament as a "really difficult situation", while another from the group begged for France, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to help them return to their families.

"Please help us to get home, we are looking for our families," he said. "Please do whatever is needed to get us back home."

During a visit to Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, the Estonian foreign minister, Urmas Paet, spoke with his Emirati and Saudi Arabian counterparts about the kidnapping. The nearly two-minute video clip was also sent directly to the Estonian foreign ministry.

"Since Saudi Arabia was mentioned in the video that was sent to the Foreign Ministry. I ask my Saudi Arabian colleague for additional information and analysis," Mr Paet said in a statement released by his office.

zconstantine@thenational.ae