BEIRUT — Two German nationals who were briefly kidnapped in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley were released today, but a Lebanese soldier and a gunman died in a firefight as the army moved in afterward to arrest the abductors, said security officials.
The Bekaa Valley, which runs between two mountain ranges, is a popular tourist destination home to picturesque boutique wineries and world-renowned Roman temples. But it’s also dominated by powerful armed clans, some involved in drug growing and smuggling. The clans often use hostage-taking as a method of resolving conflicts.
It’s unusual for foreigners to be seized, even though Lebanon is facing a growing phenomenon of gunmen holding wealthy businessmen hostage for cash.
The last major incident of gunmen seizing foreigners was in March 2011, when seven Estonian bike riders were abducted. They were released four months later.
Early reports suggested the two men were seized Friday night while en route to the towns of Shleifa and Deir al-Ahmar, the officials said. The firefight was in nearby Deir al-Wasaa, according to the media and a separate security official.
Lebanon’s official news agency and a security official said the German men had an argument with drug dealers over a payment.
But another security official said gunmen seized the two men and demanded they withdraw some $3,000 dollars from their visa card. They then demanded the men wire $5,000 more.
A third said it wasn’t clear why they were held. The conflicting reports could not immediately be reconciled.
All security officials said the gunmen had a known history of drug smuggling. They spoke anonymously, citing official regulations.
They said kidnappers released the men early today, after which they made their way to the Lebanese capital Beirut. They were held by patrolling soldiers, and identified themselves as victims of a kidnapping.
Security officials said it wasn’t yet clear if they were released because they paid a ransom, or because the gunmen panicked.
The Germans are being held for questioning, officials said. Embassy officials weren’t immediately available for comment.