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The Hostage Crisis

On June 14, 1985, American attention was riveted on Lebanon once again. A TWA airliner, Flight 847 en route from Athens to Rome, was hijacked by Shia terrorists of the Hizballah organization who demanded the release of Shia prisoners held in Kuwait, Israel, and Spain. The airliner was forced to fly to Beirut, where nineteen passengers were released, then to Algiers, where twenty-two more were freed. It then returned to Beirut where on June 15 one of the passengers, a United States Navy diver, was murdered. Seven American passengers, who, according to the terrorists, had Jewish- sounding surnames, were taken off the jet by Hizballah terrorists and sequestered in Beirut. Then, about a dozen Amal members joined the hijackers on the airplane, and the pilot was forced once again to fly to Algiers, where sixty more passengers were freed. On the following day the airplane returned to Beirut with the thirty-two remaining passengers. Approximately 200 Lebanese Army soldiers withdrew from the vicinity of Beirut International Airport, leaving the area in the control of Amal. In response to suspicions that the United States was planning a military rescue of the hostages, the terrorists moved the passengers off the airplane and sequestered them in various groups dispersed throughout Beirut. Amal and Hizballah members mined the runways at the airport to prevent a rescue attempt.

On June 17, the third day of the crisis, Amal leader and Lebanese minister of justice Nabih Birri agreed to "mediate" and take responsibility for the safety of the hostages. Birri's intervention appeared hypocritical because his men were holding most of the hostages and controlled the hijacked jet. Nevertheless, the Hizballah organization retained control of seven kidnapped Americans, leaving Birri unable to negotiate independently. Accordingly, Birri adopted a hardline stance and refused to release any hostages until Israel released 700 Shia detainees. Indeed, on June 24 Birri actually added another condition for the hostages' release, stipulating that United States warships leave Lebanese waters.

The deadlock was finally broken through a series of complex and controversial political maneuvers. The United States, determined not to concede to the terrorists' demands, refused to request Israel to release its Shia prisoners but acknowledged that it would welcome such a move. Israel, also unwilling as a matter of policy to negotiate with terrorists, refused to release its prisoners unless requested by the United States to do so. The thirty-nine hostages were ultimately freed on June 30. On July 1, Israel announced that it was ready to release the Shia detainees from its prison. Over the next several weeks, Israel released over 700 Shia prisoners, but Israel denied that the prisoners' release was related to the hijacking.

Hostage-taking has become commonplace in Lebanon. By 1987 the International Committee of The Red Cross estimated that 6,000 Lebanese had been kidnapped and or had disappeared since 1975. The systematic kidnapping of Western civilians began a few years after the Civil War. Perhaps the first victim whose case was widely publicized was American University of Beirut president David Dodge, abducted by Shia terrorists in 1981 and freed in 1982. As of September 1987, twenty-three foreigners--most of whom were journalists, diplomats, or teachers--were believed to be held hostage by various terrorist organizations in Lebanon. Of this total, nine were American. Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, had been in captivity the longest. Anderson, seized on March 16, 1985, by the Shia fundamentalist Islamic Jihad Organization, was one of six hostages who had been held for more than two years. American television correspondent Charles Glass was seized on June 17, 1987. A previously unknown group, the "Organization for the Defense of Free People," claimed responsibility. Three hostages were Britons, including Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite, who disappeared January 20, 1986, while on a negotiating mission to free the other kidnap victims. Other hostages included one of two citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) abducted in January 1987 by an organization calling itself "Strugglers for Freedom." The West Germans were seized shortly after the West German government arrested Muhammad Ali Hamadi, a Shia terrorist leader who allegedly masterminded the 1985 TWA hijacking. Six French citizens, two of whom were diplomats, also remained in captivity in late 1987, as did an Indian professor, an Irish professor, an Italian businessman, and a Republic of Korea (South Korea) diplomat.

Little information was available concerning the circumstances of the hostages. In late June 1987, the Lebanese magazine Ash Shira reported that some American hostages had been transferred from Beirut to Iran where they were being put on "trial" and that Imad Mughniyyah and Abdul Hadi Hamadi, security chiefs of the Hizballah organization, had visited Tehran to testify in the "trial."

Since 1982 seven kidnapped foreigners are believed to have been murdered by their captors. On October 3, 1985, the Islamic Jihad Organization claimed to have killed the United States Central Intelligence Agency Beirut chief of station, William Buckley, whom it had abducted on March 16, 1984. The Islamic Jihad Organization later released to a Beirut newspaper a photograph purporting to depict his corpse. Press reports stated that Buckley had been transferred to Iran, where he was tortured and killed. One of four Soviet diplomats kidnapped by the Islamic Liberation Organization on September 30, 1985, was killed by his captors; the other three were released a month later. On February 10, 1986, the Islamic Jihad Organization released a photograph that claimed to show the body of French citizen Michel Seurat, who had been kidnapped earlier. On April 17, 1986, the bodies of three American University of Beirut employees, American citizen Peter Kilburn and Britons John Douglas and Philip Padfield, were discovered near Beirut. The Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims claimed to have "executed" the three men in retaliation for the United States air raid on Libya on April 15, 1986. On April 23, 1986, a Beirut newspaper received a videotape film showing a man being hanged. The Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims claimed the man was British citizen Alec Collet, who had been kidnapped more than a year earlier.

A few fortunate Western hostages have escaped from their captors. American citizen Frank Regier, engineering professor at the American University of Beirut, was freed after several months in captivity by Amal militiamen, who raided the Beirut hideout of his extremist captors on April 15, 1984. On February 14, 1985, American journalist Jeremy Levin escaped from his captors in the Biqa Valley. On April 11, 1986, French captive Michel Brillant escaped several days after his abduction when his captors were surprised by a party of hunters in the Biqa Valley. On July 16, 1986, a Saudi Arabian diplomat was freed when the Lebanese Army caught his captors. On September 26, 1986, British journalist David Hirst escaped by bolting from his captors' automobile in a Shia neighborhood of Beirut, and several days later French television correspondent Jean-Marc Sroussi escaped from a locked shed days after his capture. American Charles Glass escaped in August 1987, two months after his capture.

Only a few hostages have been released by their captors. On May 20, 1985, Saudi Arabian consul Husayn Farrash was released by Muslim fundamentalists after over a year in captivity. In mid- September 1985, the Reverend Benjamin Weir, a Presbyterian minister held hostage since May 1984, was freed by the Islamic Jihad Organization; on July 26, 1986, the same group released Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, who had been held since January, 1985; and on November 2, 1986, American University of Beirut hospital administrator David Jacobsen was released after more than a year and a half in captivity. Americans Weir, Jenco, and Jacobsen had been held by the same Islamic Jihad Organization cell, as Terry Anderson and Thomas Sutherland, who in September 1987 remained in captivity. Several other hostages have been released by various groups, including a Spanish diplomat, a French journalist, two British women, a West German Siemens employee, and two Cypriot students.

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A wide variety of published sources discuss Lebanese national security issues, although information on the armed forces is fragmentary. Several impressionistic but vivid accounts of Lebanon's war, based on the authors' firsthand observations, provide a good introduction to the topic. The most prominent among these are Going All the Way by Jonathan C. Randall; Final Conflict and Death of a Country by John Bulloch; and Israel's Lebanon War by Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari. David C. Gordon's books, The Republic of Lebanon and Lebanon: The Fragmented Nation, provide a good general overview. For a scholarly treatment of Lebanese political-military affairs, Michael C. Hudson's dated but seminal The Precarious Republic is useful for background information. More current scholarly works include The War for Lebanon, 1970-1983 by Itamar Rabinovich, The Lebanese Civil War by Marius Deeb, and Conflict and Violence in Lebanon by Rashid Khalidi. The contributions on Lebanon by Itamar Rabinovich and Yosef Olmert in the annual Middle East Contemporary Survey are a useful reference source. Other sources focus on more specific issues. Rashid Khalidi concentrates on the Palestinian presence in Lebanon in Under Siege. The Syrian role in Lebanon is explored in Syria and the Lebanese Crisis by Adeed I. Dawisha and Syrian Intervention in Lebanon by Naomi J. Weinberger. Middle East Insight, a periodical, frequently publishes articles about Lebanon, including Richard Augustus Norton's work on the Shia community. Journalistic coverage of Lebanese affairs by the international news media is comprehensive. In addition, Lebanon has a relatively large domestic press, although much of its coverage represents partisan viewpoints. Among the most authoritative English-language Lebanese publications is the Middle East Reporter. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.

Data as of December 1987

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