The release of abducted Saudi national Mashari al-Mutairi is a remarkable success by Lebanese military intelligence against organized crime gangs because – in a first – it witnessed the arrest of several of the kidnappers. Previously, the majority of abductions were resolved but the perpetrators often remained at large.
The latest kidnapping exposed an organized crime network, which targets “lone foreigners”, that stretches from Beirut to the Syrian border region.
Mutairi’s ordeal began at a café in the Khaldeh region south of Beirut on Saturday. After spending a couple of hours there, he continued his night out at the Zaintuna Bay waterfront area in central Beirut at around midnight.
Investigators believe that he was being watched in Khaldeh by some locals whose task is to determine a “target” and that night it was al-Mutairi. The information was relayed to five people affiliated with the gang that monitored the target. They contacted the leader, Moussa Jaafar, who is wanted by authorities on kidnapping, extortion and drug-related charges.
They agreed on the target and as al-Mutairi was leaving Zaituna Bay in his vehicle at 3 am on Sunday, they pounced. They first followed him in their car before ramming into him in a secluded area. They quickly hauled him into their vehicle and headed east towards the Bekaa region.
They stopped at the Chtoura region to switch vehicles and made their way to the Sharawineh area in the Bekaa. They turned the hostage over to a group affiliated with Jaafar and received payment for their work.
Al-Mutairi was threatened and intimidated. The kidnappers seized his bank card and forced the hostage to give them his pin number. He deliberately gave them the wrong one, and after more physical and verbal threats, he gave them the right number. The kidnappers managed to withdraw a few thousand dollars, which, of course, was not enough for them. They next sent a text message from his phone demanding a ransom of $400,000.
In the meantime, the security forces were looking for clues. They tried to narrow down who the kidnappers may be given the long list of wanted fugitives operating in the east. The withdrawal of money gave them their first clue and later, the text message became a lead. The security forces questioned people at the Khaldeh café. They followed the lead to the Sid al-Bouchrieh area where they arrested a suspect, who revealed information about the kidnappers.
The information he provided led the army intelligence to the town of Jarmash in Syria. Its inhabitants are predominantly Lebanese from the Jaafar family. Moussa Jaafar, like many other residents there, make a living out of kidnapping.
A security source told Asharq Al-Awsat that Moussa is wanted by Lebanon for several crimes, including the abduction of an Iraqi and a Syrian. He is also wanted on drug-related charges.
With the suspect in sight, the army began pressuring his businesses in Lebanon and his family in Sharawineh. It raided the area and arrested some of his relatives. They made sure that Moussa was aware that they were on to him. Seven kidnappers linked to al-Mutairi's case were eventually arrested.
On Monday, the pressure mounted with the army raiding an area on the Lebanese-Syrian border. It reached more kidnappers and a clash ensued. The kidnappers abandoned the hostage and fled towards Syrian territory.
The army is now searching for more suspects, including an individual who opened fire at an army position after a military raid on a captagon warehouse in Sharawineh. The captagon dealers are also involved in the kidnapping.