BEIRUT: A Saudi national who had been kidnapped in Beirut has been freed in a “special operation” by the Lebanese army near the border with Syria, the military said on Tuesday.
Soldiers had also raided homes in Baalbek in connection with the abduction, as well as a location in the eastern city where the illicit stimulant drug captagon was being produced, the army said in a statement.
“An army intelligence patrol managed to free kidnapped Saudi national Mashari al-Mutairi during a special operation on the Syrian border,” it said in a separate statement.
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi told a news conference nine people had been arrested over the kidnapping, and that Mutairi was “doing well”.
The Saudi ambassador to Beirut, Walid Bukhari, thanked Lebanon for its efforts to swiftly free the man.
A senior Lebanese security source had said on late Monday that unidentified assailants dressed as security personnel and driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle had kidnapped the Saudi national on the Beirut seafront, where he had been in a restaurant.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati congratulated the army on the “great effort deployed to release him and arrest those involved in the kidnapping”.
According to Saudi government-owned television channel Al-Ekhbariya, the kidnappers had demanded a ransom.
Lebanese security forces frequently target parts of the Syrian border area in connection with drug trafficking.
Most of the Middle East region’s captagon is produced in Syria and Lebanon and smuggled to its main consumer market in the Gulf.
Kidnappings of foreign nationals have been rare in recent years in Lebanon, which since late 2019 has been facing devastating economic crisis that has impoverished the population.
In July last year, a Saudi national was abducted on arrival at Beirut airport.
Since 2021, Saudis have had to obtain their government’s permission before travelling to Lebanon due to strained diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Riyadh returned its ambassador to Beirut in April 2022, just over five months after recalling him amid a diplomatic dispute pitting Lebanon against several Gulf monarchies.
Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2023