Gunmen Kidnap French Diplomat in West Beirut

The Washington Post

A French diplomat was kidnaped by three gunmen Friday and two other employees of the French Embassy were reported missing and presumed abducted in a new wave of incidents apparently stemming from a fundamentalist Muslim campaign to drive all foreigners out of Beirut.

Marcel Fontaine, vice consul of the French mission, was abducted by three men while walking to his office in West Beirut and driven away in a blue BMW sedan similar to that used in three other kidnapings in recent months.

Later in the day, an embassy spokesman said two other employees in the mission failed to report to work and were presumed to have been kidnaped.

The spokesman, Marcel l'Augel, identified the missing employees as Marcel Carton, 62, a protocol officer, and his 34-year-old daughter, Danielle Perez, who works as a secretary in the cultural section of the embassy.

A French Embassy official Friday said no contact had been made with Fontaine's kidnapers. "We have no information about Mr. Fontaine. We are making contacts (with various private militias) for information about him," the official said.

In anonymous telephone calls to Western news agencies, Islamic Jihad, (Islamic Holy War), a shadowy organization apparently made up of Shia Muslim fundamentalists loyal to Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, claimed responsibility for Friday's abductions.

In a statement issued here last week to journalists, Islamic Jihad said, "We are definite that Islamic Beirut is full of agents from all sides and accordingly we are working day and night to purge our region of any subversive elements."

Western diplomats were unable to explain Friday night why French foreign mission employees had been targeted, since France voted for a recent U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israel for occupation practices in southern Lebanon.

The United States vetoed the resolution, and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut subsequently evacuated a number of its embassy employees in the face of renewed threats by Islamic organizations.

Intimidation Campaign

Lebanese security sources have suggested that a systematic campaign is under way to intimidate Beirut's foreign community by kidnaping foreign nationals who have long lived in West Beirut and have high profiles there.

One Lebanese politician, who himself was kidnaped last year and held for more than a week before being released, said that at least three teams of professional "hit men" specializing in kidnapings have been contracting with various extremist Islamic groups to follow the movements of foreigners in the capital and abduct them for a fee.

"They have no ideology or personal interest in their work. They simply offer a nice clean grab without any shooting and turn over the victim to their clients for a fee," said the politician, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.

Fontaine's abduction was the fourth confirmed kidnaping of a Westerner in West Beirut in the past eight days. The most recent wave of abductions began on March 14, when Geoffrey Nash, 60, a British metallurgist, was kidnaped near his home. A British businessman, Brian Levick, 59, was abducted the next day, and last Saturday gunmen seized Terry A. Anderson, 37, an American, who is chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press.

In addition, a Dutch Roman Catholic priest of the Jesuit order, Father Nicolas Kluiters, disappeared while traveling in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon on March 14.

Missing Americans

Besides Anderson, other Americans still missing after being reported kidnaped are William Buckley, a U.S. Embassy political officer; Peter Kilburn, a librarian at the American University of Beirut; the Rev. Benjamin Weir, a Presbyterian minister; and Father Lawrence Jenco, a Roman Catholic priest.

In Washington on Friday, Weir's wife met with Secretary of State George P. Shultz and afterward accused the U.S. government of not doing enough to free him and the other missing Americans, Reuters news service reported.

State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said Shultz assured Carol Weir that "we are doing everything possible to secure the release of her husband and four other Americans."

Kalb added, "It would not be useful publicly to discuss details of just what we are doing to secure their safe release, but the fact that we do not believe it would be helpful to discuss our efforts does not imply a lack of concern or effort on our part."

In a news conference with reporters, Carol Weir asserted, "The issue just isn't getting enough attention." She also said she asked Shultz to persuade President Reagan to make a personal appeal.

"The bottleneck is in Washington, not in Beirut or Damascus," she said, adding that it might be helpful if the United States joined with Britain and France to try to bring international pressure to bear.

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