85-Year-Old Kidnaped in West Beirut

Associated Press

Kidnapers struck twice today in Muslim West Beirut, seizing an 85-year-old Frenchman and a Lebanese Christian professor at American University of Beirut, whose staff has been a frequent target.

Police said two gunmen in militia uniforms intercepted retired auto dealer Camille Sontag and his wife, Blanche, also 85, as they drove on a crowded seaside boulevard in the Ein el Mreisse district at 8:30 a.m.

One held a gun to Blanche Sontag’s head and the other pulled her husband from the car, police said. The gunmen then forced Sontag into a waiting taxi and sped away while his wife screamed for help. Police said none of the dozens of witnesses dared interfere.


After her husband’s abduction, Mrs. Sontag rushed to the Lebanese Information Ministry, five blocks away, to report the kidnaping. She also called French Ambassador Christian Graeff, police said.

Near Beach Club

French Embassy officials said the kidnaping took place near Ein el Mreisse’s military beach club, the Bain Militaire.

Mrs. Sontag went from the Information Ministry to Justice Minister Nabih Berri’s heavily fortified house near Beirut’s dividing Green Line to seek his assistance. Berri heads the Shia Muslim Amal, Lebanon’s largest militia force.

She later called on Deputy Parliament Speaker Munir abu Fadhel, a Christian. Abu Fadhel told Associated Press that he has urged various militia commands in West Beirut to track down Sontag’s kidnapers and free him.

“They all promised to cooperate and have alerted their forces on the ground to search for the victim,” Abu Fadhel added.

Earlier Abduction

An hour earlier and three blocks away, gunmen abducted Nabil Matar as he walked from his home in the Ras Beirut neighborhood of West Beirut to the nearby American University campus.

Matar, 36, is an associate professor of cultural studies at the university. The school said it notified the Lebanese government and leaders of the various militias and asked their help.

Most of the university’s Western professors have fled in fear of abduction or assassination. Major militia leaders such as Berri and Walid Jumblatt of the Druze have spoken publicly against the wave of terror.

Police said two or three gunmen intercepted Matar midway in his regular morning stroll to the campus and forced him into a car.

No Sign of Link

No group has claimed responsibility for either abduction. An investigating officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there is no indication that the kidnapings were related or carried out by the same faction.

The Sontags came to Beirut with the French army in 1939 and remained. Mrs. Sontag said that her husband recently retired as chief representative of the French auto maker Peugeot, a post he had held since 1947, and that they planned to move back to France next week.

“We were actually driving to pay our telephone bill when we were attacked,” she told reporters. “I think they followed us.”

“We loved this country. We’ve always loved it, because of the sunny weather and amiable people. But this has changed. We don’t like it anymore.” She said that her family origins were Lebanese and that she holds dual citizenship.