Group Claims It Kidnapped Frenchman, Threatens to Kill Him
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ An underground Arab group claimed it kidnapped a Frenchman in Lebanon today and said he would be killed if any other Western hostages are freed.
The claim, which came hours after another extremist group, the pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad, released Briton John McCarthy, the first Western hostage to be freed in nearly a year.
A man who said he represented the underground group, Organization for the Defense of the Prisoners’ Rights, claimed it had kidnapped Jerome Leyraud. The caller identified Leyraud as a French intelligence officer ″who operated under the cover of a humanitarian organization claiming to help the people.″
A Paris-based medical group, Doctors of the World, said it had a 25-year- old representative in Beirut with the same name, but it didn’t know if he had been kidnapped.
However, a Lebanese woman at the group’s office in Beirut, who identified herself as the secretary, said Leyraud was apparently missing. ″Mr. Leyraud left the office at around noon and we haven’t heard from him since,″ she said. French Defense Minister Pierre Joxe said in a television interview that there was no French agent with that name. The French government did not immediately confirm that any kidnapping had taken place.
The Organization for the Defense of the Prisoners’ Rights was heard of for the first time on Wednesday. It claimed responsibility for a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a U.N. office in Beirut and said that attack was a warning against any unconditional release of Western hostages.
McCarthy was carrying a message to U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, which McCarthy indicated called for an exchange of Western hostages and Arab prisoners held by Israel and its allied militia in southern Lebanon.
Israel indicated it was ready to make such an exchange.
Perez de Cuellar said in New York today that he was hopeful that another Westerner would be freed by Friday, possibly an American.
The claim of a new abduction today was made in a telephone call to a Western news agency in Beirut.
″We hereby declare that he will be executed the moment another hostage is released,″ the caller said.
A Doctors of the World official in Paris said the group had no news of a kidnapping but that Leyraud had been in Lebanon since May, working on a project to restore public hospitals following Lebanon’s 16-year civil war.
″I deny that he is an agent of the secret services,″ said Michel Brugiere, the humanitarian group’s director of medical missions.
″I’ve known him for a long time, he’s very civil, a student ... I just spoke with him yesterday, and he was calm, not at all worried about anything. I’m very shocked by this news.″
Brugiere said Leyraud had worked previously for the group in the African nation of Sierra Leone and was to return to Paris in September to continue studies at the Institute of Political Science.
In the telephone call to the news agency, the caller was asked whether the Frenchman was kidnapped in Lebanon. The caller said, ″Correct.″
″We had warned against releasing any hostage,″ the caller said, apparently reading from a written statement.
″So now we hereby act. We declare our responsibility for kidnapping French intelligence officer Lt. Jerome Leyraud who operated under the cover of a humanitartian organization claiming to help the people. We have seized from him security reports and maps.″
The caller then made the execution threat and added:
″We shall not stop at this point if the deals and the trading persist at the expense of the dignity of our brethren imprisoned in Israel and the political prisoners in the West.″
McCarthy was freed today after being held hostage in Lebanon for more than five years. He said his captors sought a ″full exchange″ of Western hostages and Israel’s prisoners from Lebanon.
Not counting McCarthy or Leyraud, there are 12 Western hostages held in Lebanon, including six Americans.