URGENT Three Hostages Freed in Beirut
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ A French woman, her Belgian boyfriend and their 2-year-old daughter were released Tuesday by the Palestinian terrorist group led by Abu Nidal that held the couple hostage for nearly 2 1/2 years.
Police identified the three as Jacqueline Valente, Ferdinand Houtekins and their daughter Sophie, born in captivity.
Masked gunmen from the Fatah-Revolutionary Council brought the three to French Ambassador Rene Ala early Tuesday, a police spokesman said.
A convoy of three cars, curtains drawn, sped into the embassy grounds in west Beirut at 8:15 a.m. while others stood guard in two more cars at a nearby traffic circle, he said.
French Embassy spokesman Francois Abi Saab, reached by telephone, said they were ″okay.″
The police spokesman said, ″Ala and the French diplomats apparently had advance notice of the release. Ala was waiting at a cement outpost manned by French Marine guards near the main gate.″
The Abu Nidal group announced on Nov. 8, 1987 that it had seized hostages from the French yacht Silco in the Mediterranean off the Gaza strip and accused them of collaborating with Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.
Friends said the group was on a holiday cruise.
Fatah-Revolutionary Council acknowledged holding Valente, 32, Sophie, and a second daughter allegedly born in captivity, and five Belgians, including Houtekins, who is in his 40s.
The Abu Nidal group said on Monday that it would free three European hostages this month and Belgian officials confirmed the group had demanded the release of a Palestinian jailed in Belgium for a 1980 attack.
Walid Khaled, spokesman for the group, said Monday three of the captives would be released by the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is expected to end around April 26, depending on when the new moon is sighted.
A spokesman for the Abu Nidal Group on Monday would not comment on the whereabouts of the second daughter born in captivity, saying Ms. Valente would talk about that when she was released.
The other Belgians are Ferdinand Houtekins’ brother Emmanuel, in his 40s, his wife Godelieve Kets, age unavailable, and son Laurent and daughter Valerie, both teen-agers.
Khaled said Monday that freedom for those four Belgians was contingent on freedom for Nasser Sa’eed, who was sentenced to life in prison for a June 27, 1980 grenade attack on Jewish youths in Antwerp.
A 15-year-old was killed in the attack and 20 people injured.
Two other daughters of Ms. Valente were freed on Dec. 29, 1988. Daughter Marie-Laure was 6 at the time and Virginie was 5. They were returned to their father Pascal Betille, divorced from Ms. Valente.
The two girls surfaced in Libya, where the others were believed held.
On Wednesday, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi called for the release of Ms. Valente as a compassionate measure on the occasion of Ramadan.
The Fatah-Revolutionary Council has been blamed for scores of terrorist acts, including the December 1985 attacks on Rome and Vienna airports that killed more than 20 people, the September 1986 attack on an Istanbul synagogue that killed 21 worshipers and the 1983 mid-air bombing of a Gulf Air jetliner that killed all 122 people aboard.
Because the boat hostages were believed held in Libya, the case is considered unrelated to the 18 Westerners held hostage in Lebanon by pro- Iranian Shiite Moslem factions.
The Westerners missing in Lebanon are eight Americans, four Britons, two West Germans, two Swiss, an Irishman and an Italian.
The longest held is Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press. He was kidnapped in west Beirut on March 16, 1985.
Most of the others have been held at least three years.