Lebanese judge charges 11 with kidnapping of Estonians

A Lebanese judge charged 11 people with kidnapping seven Estonian cyclists who went missing last month, a judicial official said on Friday.

“Eleven Lebanese have been charged with the kidnapping of the group, seven of whom are currently in custody and four who are being charged in absentia, and they will now face trial,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Some of those in custody confessed to the kidnapping and said they had handed the Estonians over to three of those facing charges in absentia,” the official added, declining to comment on their identities.

A previously unheard of group, Harakat al-Nahda wa al-Islah (Movement for Renewal and Reform), has demanded an unspecified ransom to free the seven Estonians, kidnapped in eastern Lebanon on March 23.

Rabih Haber, who heads the Beirut-based website Lebanon Files, said his office had received an email demanding an unspecified sum in exchange for their release.

A security official contacted by AFP would not comment on the claim.

The seven Estonian men, in their 30s and early 40s, were kidnapped at gunpoint in the eastern Bekaa Valley after entering Lebanon through Syria on their bicycles. The motive for the abduction remains unclear.

Acting Interior Minister Ziad Baroud has said it was unclear whether the Estonians were still in Lebanon or had been smuggled across the border.

Other authorities have said the Estonians may have been moved to Syria, across the porous border between the two countries.

A senior security official had previously told AFP a gang of Lebanese and Syrians was involved in the kidnapping. Now Lebanon

Photo: Van used in kidnapping of the 7 Estonians