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Iranian News Agency Says European Hostage May Soon be Freed

August 23, 1990

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ The official Iranian news agency said Thursday that a European hostage held in Lebanon would be released soon.

The Islamic Republic News Agency said the hostage to be freed was likely to be Brian Keenan, an Irish national held since April 1986.

The morning report from the agency’s Beirut office quoted an unidentified source as saying the release could come within hours.

IRNA did not name the source. The news agency carried a similar report on an imminent release in July that proved false.

In Dublin, Ireland, the Department of Foreign Affairs said: ″We are aware of the report and would point to its speculative nature.″

In Beirut, a source close to the Syrian command, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Syrian government was notified two days ago of the decision to free a European hostage, probably Keenan.

He said arrangements had been discussed on where, when and how the release would take place.

But Nasser Kaddour, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, said, ″I have no information on the release of any hostage.″

A source at the Ministry of Information in Damascus said they had no immediate information about the possible release.

Gerben Meihuizen, the Dutch ambassador to Syria, said he had ″no confirmation″ of the report. The Netherlands handles Irish interests in Damascus.

Keenan’s family in Northern Ireland reacted cautiously to the report.

″We’ve heard nothing about this and we won’t get our hopes built up after last month,″ said Keenan’s sister, Elaine Spence of Belfast, Northern Ireland. ″You can’t live with getting your hopes built up and brought down too often.″

Keenan, 39, was kidnapped April 11, 1986 in west Beirut while walking to his job as an English teacher at the American University in Beirut.

Two Swiss Red Cross workers were released separately earlier this month after being held 10 months in Lebanon.

Their release left 14 Westerners held hostage in Lebanon. Most are believed held by extremist Moslem groups loyal to Iran. In addition to Keenan, they include six Americans, four Britons, two West Germans and an Italian.

The longest held is Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press. He was abducted March 16, 1985.

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