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Hunters Free Kidnaped Frenchman : Looking for Rabbits in Lebanese Valley, They Find Gunfight

Associated Press

Hunters stumbled across a kidnaped French teacher in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley early today and freed him during a shoot-out with his captors.

The teacher, 42-year-old Michel Brian, was not injured in the gun battle on the outskirts of Baalbek.

The Syrian army, which controls the Bekaa Valley, took Brian to its intelligence headquarters at Anjar. They later were believed to have left with him in a military convoy heading for Damascus.

Brian told a reporter shortly after the hunters rescued him that “there was some gunfire and the kidnapers panicked and left me.”

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He told the reporters he was kidnaped Tuesday night in West Beirut by gunmen who forced him into a car. He teaches French at the College Protestant Francais, a private school in Beirut.

Three Others Vanish

Three other Western teachers have disappeared in West Beirut since March 28, including an Irishman, Brian Keenan, 35, who was reported missing today. A spokesman for the American University of Beirut where Keenan teaches English said he failed to show up for classes and was feared kidnaped.

The hunters who rescued Brian came upon three or four gunmen sitting in a car with the Frenchman, who was blindfolded and had his hands tied behind his back. They apparently were trying to move him from a hide-out in the Bekaa.

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The gunmen drove off after dumping Brian in a ditch, blindfolded and bound.

Hunting for Rabbits

“I was very lucky,” Brian said. “I didn’t know what was happening. I was in the ditch. Then these three men came up and took off the blindfold and released my hands.”

Brian said the hunters told him they had been out hunting rabbits.

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“I said, ‘You’ve got yourself a big rabbit then.’ ”

Brian said his kidnapers had accused him of being an Israeli spy.

“I don’t know who they are, whether they are Shia Muslims or not,” he said.

An anonymous man called a Western news agency in Beirut on Thursday and said Brian had been kidnaped by a previously unknown group called the Siffine Islamic Organization. The caller did not state the group’s demands, but said another statement would be issued after Brian’s “interrogation has been completed.”

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Statement to Press

Also Thursday, a handwritten statement purported to be from Brian’s kidnapers was handed to a Lebanese reporter on the street in West Beirut. The statement did not identify the group holding the teacher or give its demands, but was accompanied by a photocopy of Brian’s Lebanese residency permit.

Brian said he was not mistreated during his three-day ordeal.

“They showed kindness,” he said. “I had everything I needed--water, medicine. . . . I had a newspaper, I could listen to the radio and I could move freely around the room in which I was locked.”

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