American journalist Charles Glass has been kidnaped by gunmen in a Muslim-controlled suburb of West Beirut, the first Westerner to be taken hostage there since 7,500 Syrian troops moved into the Lebanese capital last February, the State Department confirmed Thursday.
Glass, 36, a Los Angeles native and former ABC News correspondent in the Middle East, was kidnaped at midday Wednesday while traveling in the chauffeur-driven car of the Lebanese defense minister's son, who was also seized by the gunmen, officials said.
Glass, who resigned from ABC in March, was in Lebanon researching a book about the Middle East.
9 Americans Held
The abduction brought to nine the number of Americans held hostage in Lebanon. Sixteen other foreigners are missing after being abducted in Beirut.
State Department officials stressed that they had only sketchy information on the incident.
"We know of no claims of responsibility" for the abduction, the department said in a statement, but it added: "While much remains unclear, we assume this is another terrorist attempt to manipulate the United States through our concern for our citizens."
It said that the United States will not respond to "terrorist blackmail" and reiterated warnings that U.S. citizens should not travel to Lebanon because of the "extreme hazard" of terrorist incidents there.
According to sometimes conflicting reports from Beirut, Glass and Ali Osseiran, 40, a member of a prominent southern Lebanese Shia Muslim family, were stopped on a road north of the Beirut airport by armed men in two to four vehicles and were hustled out of the white Volvo in which they were riding. Their driver, a bodyguard who worked for Osseiran's father, Defense Minister Adel Osseiran, was also kidnaped.
The Associated Press, quoting police accounts, said there were 14 abductors and that Glass was beaten before he was shoved into a car trunk.
One report, attributed to security officials by Cable News Network, speculated that Glass, who reported on the 1985 terrorist hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and interviewed several of the Shia hijackers, was kidnaped to keep him from testifying against Mohammed Ali Hamadi, a suspect in the hijacking who is now in a West German jail awaiting prosecution.
In announcing Glass' abduction, the State Department took the opportunity to make one of the firmest statements of U.S. policy on terrorism since the revelation last fall of the U.S. arms sales to Iran put that policy in doubt.
"While we are deeply concerned for the well-being of . . . all the hostages, American and foreign," the statement said, "we repeat that we will not yield to terrorist blackmail. We hold the kidnapers responsible for the safety of their victims and call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those held hostage."
'No One Is Immune'
Saying that "no one is immune to the violence there," the department restated its policy imposed last January that U.S. passports no longer will be valid for travel to Lebanon without special exemptions that could be granted to diplomats, journalists, and others in extraordinary circumstances.
Department spokesman Phyllis Oakley said that Glass, who has made several trips to Lebanon in recent months, had not sought that exemption, thereby putting him in "technical violation of the law" if he used his U.S. passport to enter the country.
Glass, of Lebanese ancestry, had studied at American University of Beirut in the early 1970s and had reported on the turbulent history of that city since the mid-1970s for the Christian Science Monitor, Newsweek, Time and, most recently, for ABC television news. He joined ABC in 1983, then took an indefinite leave of absence in March to write a book about the Arab world.
Covered 1985 Hijacking
Glass's coverage of the 1985 TWA hijacking was controversial. Using his sources in the Shia Muslim community, he was able to get a dramatic interview with the plane's pilot, John Testrake, while the pilot leaned out the cockpit window and a hijacker held a gun to the pilot's head. Some critics suggested that Glass played into the hijackers' hands by giving them such a public forum while the crew and passengers were still held hostage.
Glass's wife, Fiona, told Associated Press in London, where the couple live with their five children, that her husband is "of Arab extraction and he's always been very interested in the region. Now, he's considered a great expert on it." She said that her husband was working on a book entitled "Lebanese Families and Their Role in Political Life."
On his way to Beirut last month, Glass paused in Nicosia, Cyprus, and reassured a United Press International correspondent there that he did not believe he was in danger while visiting Beirut. "I probably know more people in Lebanon than anywhere else in the world. I'll be OK there," he was quoted as saying.
According to the Associated Press, whose Beirut bureau Glass visited at midday Tuesday, Glass met the defense minister, Adel Osseiran, for lunch that day at the American University Alumni Club. Later, he set off in the white Volvo, driven by Osseiran's bodyguard, Sgt. Ali Sleiman, a member of the Lebanese security forces, on the road south to Rumeileh, near Sidon, to meet Ali Osseiran at their family villa.
Ali's sister, Zeina, told the Associated Press on Thursday that Glass and her brother left Sidon for the 25-mile drive north to Beirut about 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Thereafter, reports of events are conflicting, but it appears that the Volvo was stopped on the Awazi Road north of Beirut International Airport, only 350 yards from a Syrian Army checkpoint and in a notoriously dangerous district controlled by the pro-Iranian Hezbollah faction of the Lebanese Shia sect. The kidnapers were described as groups of gunmen in a Mercedes, a BMW and one or two other vehicles.
"It looks like the kidnapers wanted to grab Glass alone," said an unidentified Lebanese police spokesman, according to one wire service account. "But Osseiran's angry protests forced their hand and he was also taken by the gunmen along with his driver, a Lebanese riot policeman."
"The world thinks Lebanese are bloodthirsty warmongers," Glass told UPI's David Zenian in Nicosia last month before heading for Beirut. "Well, they are not. I have friends there--after all Beirut has always been like home to me. I have written so much about the politics of the region and now it's time I do something about the people.
"The book I am working on is not just about the Lebanese. It is about the people of Syria, the Palestinians and Jordanians," Glass told Zenian. "On my previous trip to the region in early May, I toured most of Syria and Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. People were very friendly and I had no trouble at all. I know a lot of people in Beirut, and I will be OK there."