U.S. Thanks Syria for Role in Kidnaping Case

From Reuters

The Reagan Administration on Friday thanked Syria for its role in the case of U.S. television journalist Jeremy Levin, who gained his freedom Thursday after 11 months' captivity in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

"We are very appreciative of the Syrian government's role in this matter," State Department Spokesman Edward Djerejian told reporters.

He said the Syrians played a positive role but declined to give details. He said the United States was engaged in intensive efforts to obtain the release of four other Americans who disappeared in the last year in West Beirut.

Islamic Jihad, a shadowy organization which U.S. officials think is an umbrella for a number of Muslim fundamentalist groups, has claimed responsibility for the kidnapings.

No New Information

U.S. officials declined to speculate on the fate of the four and said they had no new information on them.

Levin, 51, the Beirut bureau chief of Cable New Network, was handed over to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus on Friday by Syrian officials.

Levin, 52, said he discovered late last Wednesday night that his captors had been "careless with the chains" and worked free, tied three blankets together and lowered himself through a window of the apartment building that had been his prison in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

He told reporters in Damascus that he walked for two hours through the Bekaa, which is occupied by the Syrian army, and ran into a patrol near the ancient city of Baalbek. He said he hid from the soldiers at first, thinking they might be the kidnapers trying to recapture him, then revealed himself and pleaded for help.

Levin said he could not identify his captors.

"I've been in solitary confinement for the whole time chained to the wall or a radiator. . . . The faces of the Syrian soldiers were the first faces I saw since March 7 of last year. They were good faces," he said.

In an interview Friday with CNN, Levin said, "I was treated miserably. . . . They could have been 100% better to me and I still would have been treated miserably.

'Swat Me Around'

"They were rough on me the first six months and then not really rough the second six months. The first six months they didn't beat me, but they would hit me around, swat me around, slap me, pound my back, pound my shoulders. . . ." He said the object was to teach him obedience, "and obedience for them was, don't ever look at our faces or we'll kill you, don't ever look out the window or we'll kill you, don't even stand up or we'll kill you."

The soldiers turned Levin over to Syrian intelligence officers in Baalbek. He was taken to a Syrian army base near the Lebanese-Syrian border, then to Damascus.

He was turned over to Ambassador William Eagleton on Friday morning at the Foreign Ministry and left two hours later for Frankfurt. His wife, Lucille, was flown there on a U.S. government jet for the reunion.

Levin said he never saw the faces of his captors from the time he was seized and forced into a car March 7, 1984, on the West Beirut seafront.

He told reporters at the Foreign Ministry that he thought four other people were held in the same house, on a hillside somewhere near Baalbek, but did not know whether they were Americans.

Levin said that when his captors took him to the bathroom, next to his room, he was always blindfolded, and had to knock on the door when he was ready to go back to his room. He said he heard four other such knocks each morning -- apparently from the others signaling their guards.

Unsure of Language

"But the voices were muffled, and I could not tell whether they were speaking English," he said.

Four other Americans disappeared or were kidnaped in the Muslim West Beirut in the past year. They are William Buckley, a U.S. Embassy political officer; the Rev. Benjamin Weir, a Presbyterian minister; Peter Kilburn, a librarian at the American University of Beirut, and Father Lawrence Jenco, a Roman Catholic priest.

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