4 Soviet Diplomats Seized by Gunmen in West Beirut : 1st Ambush of Russians in Lebanon
Gunmen armed with Soviet AK-47 submachine guns kidnaped four Soviets from two embassy cars in Muslim West Beirut today, spiriting them away to undisclosed locations. It was the first reported abduction of Soviets in Beirut.
The four men were kidnaped, two at a time, from the embassy cars and driven away in separate incidents within hours of each other. Both cars were later found abandoned several blocks from the Soviet Embassy, one with a window shattered.
No group immediately claimed responsibility.
Soviet Ambassador Alexander Soldatov’s deputy informed the Lebanese Foreign Ministry that four members of the Soviet mission had been kidnaped, diplomatic sources said.
The Voice of Lebanon, a private Christian radio station, identified three of the Soviets by name and said the fourth was the embassy physician.
“The abductors snatched Akardy Katokov and the embassy doctor from the first car and Oleg Spirin, an attache, and Valery Kornev, a second secretary, from the second car,” the broadcast said.
The kidnapings were the first involving Soviets in Beirut, where Muslim gunmen have abducted and are still holding 14 Westerners--6 Americans, 4 Frenchmen, 3 Britons and an Italian.
There was no further word today on when the fundamentalist Islamic Jihad terror movement, which says it is holding the Americans and two Frenchmen, would hold a news conference with the hostages as it promised to do Sunday.
Dragged Out at Gunpoint
A witness to today’s kidnaping of the first two Soviets said he saw them being dragged out of their car at gunpoint.
“It was about 2 p.m. when the kidnaping occurred. I suddenly saw a blue Peugeot car intercept the Soviet Embassy Honda,” said the witness, who asked not to be named.
“Four of the five gunmen from the Peugeot got out and surrounded the Soviet Embassy car. One of them went to the driver’s side and demanded he open the door.
“When the driver refused, he started pounding the window with the wooden butt of his AK-47. The window shattered and the gunman was able to open the door,” the witness said.
“The men inside the Soviet Embassy car looked foreign. One was tall, well built and the other was a blond. Both seemed between 30 and 40 years old. They did not put up a fight, although several shots were fired by the gunmen in the air,” the witness said.
Gunmen Not Bearded
He said the gunmen were not bearded and seemed to be led by a “tall, fair-skinned and light-haired person.”
“They dragged the two men into the Peugeot, made them crouch in the back of the car and drove away at great speed,” the witness said.
Political sources said it was likely the abduction was linked to a Syrian-backed offensive against Muslim fundamentalists who have taken control of much of the northern port city of Tripoli.
“It is possible that the kidnapers want the Soviet Union to pressure Syria to stop its assistance to the leftist and communist militias of north Lebanon,” a Lebanese diplomatic source said.
In Tripoli, 42 miles north of Beirut, Syrian-backed forces thrust toward Tripoli harbor for a third day today, attempting to sever the supply route used by the Muslim fundamentalists.
Officials reported “many” casualties in the fighting among four Syrian-backed Muslim militias who are trying to break the Muslim fundamentalist Tawhid militia’s grip on the city center and port area.