Police Have No Clues on Fate of Kidnapped French TV Crew
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Police said Sunday they had no clues to the fate of four members of a French television crew kidnapped by gunmen in a Shiite Moslem stronghold in west Beirut.
Police commander Maj. Gen. Osman Osman said authorities have no idea ″whatsoever″ about the whereabouts of the four from France’s Antenne-2 television station. They were abducted Saturday from the seaside Jnah district in Moslem west Beirut.
″Their presence there was a mistake,″ he said.
An anonymous telephone caller claiming to speak for the extremist Islamic Jihad - Islamic Holy War - group said Sunday the Frenchmen were ″detained″ because they were acting ″suspiciously.″
The statement read by an Arabic-speaking caller to a Western news agency in Beirut indicated the captives were not being held hostage and made no specific demands for their release.
French authorities identified the crew members as correspondent Philippe Rochot, 39; cameraman Georges Hansen, 45; soundman Aurel Cornea, 54, and lighting engineer Jean-Louis Normandin, 34.
French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Paris the hostage crisis in Lebanon, where 17 foreigners are missing ″has taken a turn for the worse.″
After an emergency meeting with top French officials early Sunday, Fabius said he called the French ambassador in Beirut and ″gave instructions to try to do the maximum and to make contacts with Lebanese authorities″ to try to find the kidnap victims.
″When one starts to accept blackmail, at that moment all French citizens all over the world are threatened,″ he said.
The caller’s statement reiterated demands by Islamic Jihad, a group believed to be made up of Shiite Moslem extremists loyal to Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
In a reference to France’s deportation to Iraq of two pro-Iranian Iraqi activists last month, the caller said: ″We give the French government one week to recover our two comrades from the dungeons of the Iraqi regime.″
Islamic Jihad also wants the release of five men held in France for allegedly trying to kill former Iranian Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar in 1980.
Islamic Jihad claimed last week it had killed Michel Seurat, one of four French hostages it holds, in retaliation for the Feb. 19 deportation of the Iraqis, Hamza Fawzi and Hassan Kheireddine.
The two were expelled with more than a dozen other Middle Eastern suspects in a French anti-terrorism drive following bombings in Paris.
Seurat, 37, a researcher at the French Center for Studies and Research of the Contemporary Middle East, was kidnapped in west Beirut May 22 with journalist Jean-Paul Kauffmann, 42. There has been no confirmation that Seurat was slain.
The other French hostages are Vice Consul Marcel Fontaine, 45, and the French Embassy’s protocol officer, Marcel Carton, 62. They were kidnapped last March 22.
Islamic Jihad also claims it kidnapped six Americans in Lebanon. It has demanded Kuwait release 17 comrades jailed there for bombing the U.S. and French embassies in December 1983. Kuwait has rejected that demand.
In a telephone call Saturday, a man saying he represented Islamic Jihad said the Frenchmen’s captors were prepared to meet with Razah Raad, a Lebanese-born French heart specialist who has tried three times to secure the release of the French hostages.
Raad arrived in the Syrian capital of Damascus Sunday evening. He told reporters: ″I am here to make sure about the status of the hostages.″
Asked whether he was the emissary of new initiatives, he replied: ″I do not carry any ideas or suggestions.″ He did not say if he was planning to travel to Beirut.
The hostage crisis dragged on as the Vatican stepped in to try to revive peace talks to end Lebanon’s 10-year-old civil war.
Monsignor Achille Silvestrini, the Vatican’s foreign minister, arrived in Beirut for talks with Christian and Moslem leaders. He is expected to meet with President Amin Gemayel and then go to Damascus for talks with Syrian President Hafez Assad, the main power broker in Lebanon.
The Vatican wants to patch up differences between the two leaders, strained after Gemayel, a Christian, blocked a Syrian-sponsored peace accord signed by Lebanon’s three main militias in December.