Twenty-four hours after a retired British pilot was reported missing in West Beirut, a group calling itself the Cells of Armed Struggle claimed Saturday that it had kidnaped a Briton as hostage for Palestinians it said were jailed in England.
The group, previously unknown, did not name its captive in the statement it sent to a Western news agency in the troubled Lebanese capital. Police are investigating a possible connection with the Friday disappearance of Jack Mann, a former pilot for the Royal Air Force and Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines.
Mann’s wife, Sunny, said that he left their West Beirut apartment Friday morning for a nearby bank and had not been seen since.
“I am worried,” the wife told a reporter Saturday.
Asked in an interview whether she believes that her husband had been kidnaped, she replied: “My feeling is that, yes, I think so. He has nobody to visit. So where would he be for 24 hours and more?”
She said a search of Beirut hospitals, filled with wounded from the two-month artillery war in the capital, had turned up no trace of her elderly husband, who press reports said was in his 70s or 80s.
British diplomats in Beirut confirmed that Mann was missing, but a spokesman for their embassy said, “We have no firm evidence that he was abducted.”
Handwritten in Arabic
The statement delivered to the news agency, handwritten in Arabic, demanded a fair trial of “our comrades,” Palestinians who it said are being held in Britain for the killing of a political cartoonist in London in 1987. “We ask the British government to release our comrades detained without evidence,” the statement said.
British police, however, said no one had been detained in the killing. The cartoonist, Ali Naji Adhami, was shot in late July, 1987, outside the London offices of the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Qabas, and died of his wounds five weeks later.
The statement delivered in Beirut implicated Israeli and British intelligence agents in the killing of the cartoonist. The authors said their captive would be released “if the British government announces the start of a fair trial of our comrades, reveals their unknown fate and explains the reasons for continuing to hold them.” The British Embassy spokesman in Beirut warned that the kidnap claim could be a hoax.
Mann and his wife have lived in West Beirut since his retirement from the Lebanese airline. He later ran a nightclub in West Beirut until it was shut down in 1983.
Three other Britons are among the 18 foreigners held captive by political kidnapers in Lebanon. The captives include nine Americans.
The possible kidnap was reported on the second day of a tenuous cease-fire in the conflict between Christian forces and Syrian troops and their Muslim militia allies. Reports from Beirut said heavy artillery exchanges have ceased, but Muslim gunners Friday and Saturday fired salvos at Christian port areas north of Beirut.