Family Ties, Jobs, Sense of Adventure Are Keeping Americans in Beirut

Associated Press

Family ties, job commitment, adventure and a feeling of invincibility--all have kept Americans in Lebanon despite U.S. warnings about the risks of remaining there.

“He didn’t consider it to be too dangerous,” Tom Cicippio said of his brother, Joseph J. Cicippio, 55, kidnaped Sept. 12 on the campus of the American University of Beirut.

Like another missing American, Frank H. Reed, Cicippio married an Arab woman, converted to Islam and considered Lebanon his home, his brother said in a telephone interview from his home in Norristown, Pa.

And like all those who stayed in Beirut, he probably thought the situation would improve, that it couldn’t get any worse.

All the Americans seized in Lebanon apparently were there voluntarily. The State Department, The Associated Press, Catholic Relief Services and the American University of Beirut--organizations whose employees have been kidnaped--say no worker was ever forced to take an assignment in Beirut.


“He was offered a position and he decided to take it,” Catholic Relief’s Beth Griffin said of the Rev. Lawrence Martin Jenco, who was released from captivity in July.

Lebanon, a land of blue sea, snow-capped mountains and pine trees, once called the Switzerland of the Middle East, has been the scene of civil war for 11 1/2 years.

Since bloody fighting between religious factions erupted on April 13, 1975, more than 100,000 people have died in a country roughly the size of Connecticut.

The initial fighting prompted the State Department to issue one of its travel advisories warning Americans about the hazards more than a decade ago.

The advisories have been updated repeatedly, with the most recent--written in 1985--spelling out the danger of kidnapings and terrorist acts against Americans.

Any American required to be in Lebanon for business is urged to register with the U.S. Embassy and keep colleagues informed of his whereabouts.

“We’re not telling people they can’t go there, but we’ve encouraged all Americans to leave,” said State Department spokeswoman Ann Barrett.

Many heeded that advice.

The U.S. Embassy in Beirut puts the number of U.S. citizens at 454, with only about 30 of those in West Beirut, the section controlled by Muslims. Most remaining are dual citizens, frequently American women married to Lebanese.

Before the civil war, more than 12,000 Americans lived in Lebanon.

Cicippio, an accountant for the American University’s hospital, moved to Lebanon about two years ago after living in Saudi Arabia and London for the better part of a decade.

“He liked the jobs overseas,” his brother said. “These jobs were challenges to him.” In his native Pennsylvania, Cicippio had been a branch manager of a bank.

With its 80-acre campus in West Beirut and its international reputation, the American University was once a haven.

Robert Berry, a university spokesman in New York, said there are no American male faculty at the school this semester, but there are about half a dozen women. Jean Sutherland, the wife of hostage Thomas Sutherland, taught a course at the school last semester.

Sutherland, the acting dean of the agriculture school, is being held with Terry A. Anderson, the AP’s chief Middle East correspondent. Their captors are thought to be members of the Islamic Jihad, a pro-Iranian group of Shia Muslims.

Altogether, seven American men are missing, including William Buckley, the political officer at the U.S. Embassy who was kidnaped in March, 1984. The Jihad says it killed Buckley, but his body has not been recovered.

Catholic Relief no longer has Americans involved in its program, the AP pulled out all U.S. citizens after Anderson’s kidnaping in March, 1985, and the U.S. Embassy operates with a skeleton American staff.

Despite the hazards, it was difficult for some Americans associated with the university to leave, Berry said.

“Generally, there was a feeling that things had to get better, particularly among those faculty who had been in Beirut when it was an attractive and felicitous place,” he said.

The university, however, “exerts more pressure” on Americans to get them out of the country, he said.

Over the last four years, eight U.S. citizens who were kidnaped or assassinated in Beirut were associated with the university.

The first, David Stuart Dodge, the university’s acting president, was kidnaped on July 20, 1982, and released a year later.

Malcolm Kerr, the university’s ninth president, was shot and killed outside his office Jan. 18, 1984. The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.

More recently, David Jacobsen of Huntington Beach, Calif., was released from captivity after 17 months. Jacobsen, the university hospital’s administrator and a close friend of Cicippio’s, arrived in Beirut in January, 1985, about six months before he was seized.

Berry said the school never had any trouble recruiting qualified applicants, including Americans who were paid in U.S. dollars.

Because Lebanon is considered a danger zone, the federal tax code allows Americans to avoid U.S. taxes on income up to $80,000, regardless of how long they have been in the country, according to Mary Dowling of the accounting firm of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co..

Normally, American citizens have to live in a foreign country for a tax year, or spend 333 days in the country to qualify for the tax exemption, she said.

American Embassy staffers, who live in east Beirut, collect bonuses for working in a hazardous place, State Department spokesman Don Cofman said. Employees are not required to accept the assignment, he said.

Like Cicippio, Frank Reed of Malden, Mass., made Lebanon his home, his daughter, Marilyn Langston, said. Divorced when he moved to Lebanon, Reed married a Syrian-born woman with whom he had a son, she said.

“He was invested over there,” Langston said. “He never spoke of it being dangerous.” Reed, an educator, ran the Lebanese International School and always loved traveling, she said.

Still, Langston said, she and her younger sister worried about their father, and her husband declined an invitation to work with her father abroad.

Anderson, the AP reporter, was dedicated to covering the story in Lebanon and wanted to remain in tension-filled Beirut, said his sister, Peggy Say.

Discussing the AP’s policy, Foreign Editor Nate Polowetzky said, “No one is ever forced to go” on a hazardous assignment. “If they don’t want to go, they don’t,” he said.

Edward Austin Tracy, a free-lance writer and a habitue of Beirut’s cafes, was an independent man who spent his life roaming the world, his mother said. “He chased money all over the globe,” said Doris Tracy of South Burlington, Vt.

One acquaintance described Tracy as “weird,” and his ex-wife, Ingeberg Tracy, said his letters were “so ridiculous, so crazy . . . they didn’t make sense at all.”

Meanwhile, some Americans refuse to give up a life they view as better than any they would have elsewhere.

“Everyone wants to know why I remain in west Beirut,” Genevieve Maxwell, 79, said in an interview from her apartment more than six months ago. “I can never find another small enclave like this one,” she said, pointing to the waters of the Mediterranean. “Where will I find that in New York or Philadelphia?”