Security forces have yet to find any clues indicating where the five Czech tourists who disappeared in east Lebanon Saturday might be, but preliminary information suggests the incident was a kidnapping.
The driver of the van in which the tourists were in when they disappeared has been confirmed to be the brother of a Lebanese man held by authorities in the Czech Republic.
According to a security source, the man driving the vehicle was Saeb Mounir Fayyad, the brother of Ali Fayyad, a Lebanese citizen who was arrested in the Czech capital of Prague last year on terrorism and drug trafficking charges, and is being sought for extradition by U.S. authorities.
Saturday’s reports had stated that Saeb’s family name was Taan and that he merely came from the same village as Fayyad, which is Al-Ansar located in south Lebanon.
However, a local official in Al-Ansar explained Sunday that the full family name was Fayad-Taan, which led to the media’s confusion over the link between the two men. He confirmed that Saeb and Ali Fayad were brothers, but did not comment on the incident.
Media reports said security cameras were being examined to find out the direction in which the five tourists and the driver went after the car was abandoned 300 meters passed a military checkpoint at dawn in the West Bekaa town of Kefraya.
The Fayyad family, which has held protests earlier this year outside the U.S. and Czech embassies calling for Ali’s release, was not available for comment.
The five Czech nationals, aged between 25 and 47, had entered Lebanon twice during the past few months, a security source said Saturday. They first entered Lebanon on May 15 and left on July 1, and reentered the country on July 7, the source added.
Earlier reports said Fayyad was a taxi driver with a legally registered car, but photos obtained by The Daily Star Sunday showed the car bore a white license plate, indicating the car was registered for private use rather than for public transportation. Registered taxis and buses in Lebanon must carry a red license plate
Luggage, including a leather bag that contained Lebanese, Czech and European currencies, and three cameras were found strewn across the car. The cameras, one of them a video recorder, are believed to belong to the five missing Czechs.
Local TV station MTV said the Czechs were on a journalism mission, and said the cameras had been used for filming purposes “hours before the incident.”
The Czech Foreign Ministry confirmed the news of their disappearance Saturday night, after the country’s authorities held a crisis meeting to discuss the matter.
The Czech Foreign Ministry also withheld the names of the missing nationals in order not to jeopardize the investigation, spokeswoman Michaela Lagronova told reporters.
Czech authorities announced that they will not delve into any details concerning abduction theories in an effort to secure the lives of the missing people.
It remains unclear if the case of the missing tourists was in any way linked to that of Fayad, but kidnappings for the purpose of exchanging prisoners or hostages is not new to Lebanon.
In 2013, two Turkish pilots were abducted near the Beirut airport by families of the nine Shiite pilgrims who were abducted by rebels in northern Syria the previous year. The pilots were released two months later after Turkey intervened to secure the release of the pilgrims.