The Lebanese army succeeded on Monday in freeing abducted Saudi national Mashari al-Mutairi hours after the news of his kidnapping broke out. The military arrested the majority of his captors, garnering praise for their efforts to uncover the perpetrators.
Military sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the majority of the suspects were detained. They denied information that notorious drug dealer Monzer Zoaiter, also known as Abou Salleh, was behind the kidnapping. The sources confirmed however, that al-Mutairi’s captors were part of the most dangerous robbery, kidnapping and drug gangs in Lebanon.
A judicial source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the case will be referred to the military judiciary for several reasons. Among them is that the kidnappers had disguised themselves as members of the army by donning military outfits. They had also kitted their vehicle to make it appear as if it were a military car.
Al-Mutairi was freed after the military intelligence directorate carried out a “sophisticated raid on the Lebanese-Syrian border”. His kidnappers had demanded a ransom of $400,000 for his release. He was reported missing overnight on Saturday, kicking off contacts on the highest levels for his release.
The military carried out another raid after the release. It targeted the houses of suspected kidnappers in the Sharawineh neighborhood in the eastern city of Baalbek. They also raided a captagon narcotic pills factory that belongs to the kidnappers. A clash between the military and suspects ensued during the raid. No one was injured.
After al-Mutairi's release, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati declared that Lebanon was keen on deterring any threat against Arabs visiting the country. Lebanon will not be used as a platform to threaten the security of Arab countries, he added.
He strongly condemned the abduction, congratulating the military on its major success in freeing the hostage and arresting the perpetrators.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri praised the military command and all security forces for their role in freeing al-Mutairi. He called on the security agencies to continue their efforts in pursuing everyone involved in the case.
Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi met with Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari on Monday. The ambassador hailed the efforts that led to the release of the captive, who had headed to the Saudi embassy soon after he was freed.
Mawlawi stressed that the abduction will not affect Lebanon’s relations with Saudi Arabia, which he described as “deep and firm”.
“No one can threaten or undermine them,” he added, revealing that nine people have been arrested in connection to the crime.
“The independent Lebanese judiciary will look into this dangerous crime,” he went on to say.
“We will confront anyone who tries to harm our relations with Arab brothers. We thank them for their constant support to Lebanon,” stated the minister.
For his part, Bukhari praised the security and military forces in freeing the captive.
Al-Mutairi is well, he confirmed, saying he had endured a “trying 48-hour ordeal before he was freed.”
The security forces and Saudi authorities were in constant communication to ensure his release. The Kingdom, he remarked, is very keen on every Saudi abroad.
Praise poured in for the army after the release.
The Progressive Socialist Party hailed the military, stressing that it “rejects all attempts aimed at harming Lebanon’s relations with Saudi Arabia.” It demanded that all suspects in the case be arrested and brought to justice.
Kataeb party leader MP Sami Gemayel saluted the army and security forces on their professional work. He called for laying down the harshest of punishments against the perpetrators and their backers so that others would be deterred from committing a similar crime in the future, significantly as Lebanon approaches its usually lucrative summer season.
“We have complete trust in the military institutions that alone work diligently in protecting the Lebanese people and all visitors to the country,” Gemayel tweeted.
MP Tony Franjieh warned that the abduction was an attempt to harm Lebanon’s security, economy and tourist season. He demanded that the necessary measures be taken against the perpetrators to restore the authority of the state, put an end to kidnapping, drug and robbery gangs and protect Lebanon’s relations with Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia.