American hostage Frank H. Reed was released Monday night from more than 3 1/2 years of captivity in Lebanon and turned over to U.S. authorities in Damascus.
Reed’s release came just eight days after the freeing of another American hostage, Robert Polhill, 55, a former accountant and business professor at Beirut University College.
After being examined by a Syrian doctor at the U.S. ambassador’s residence, Reed was flown by a medically equipped U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter to Wiesbaden, West Germany, for more tests and debriefing.
Looking drawn and pale, the white-bearded educator, 57, spoke briefly before reporters and television cameras in the Syrian capital, saying in a composed but thin voice that he had been blindfolded during much of his ordeal at the hands of Lebanese Islamic militants. He seemed particularly emotional at the end of his remarks when he said that his thoughts now center on the “swift release of the other hostages.”
Reed made no mention of the “message addressed to the American Administration” that his captors, announcing his impending release in two messages to international news agencies in Beirut on Sunday, said he would be bearing.
The release on Monday followed the same pattern as Polhill’s.
The first word of the release came from Syrian authorities who announced that he had been turned over to Syrian troops in West Beirut at about 8:30 p.m. and was being driven in a motorcade to Damascus.
Syrian officials refused to describe how he was handed over. Journalists at the Summerland Hotel in Beirut, where Polhill was released, said they did not see Reed.
After a drive of about three hours, Reed was taken to the Syrian Foreign Ministry, where he was turned over to U.S. Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian.
In the small foyer of the Foreign Ministry building shortly before midnight, Reed, a native of Malden, Mass., who was director of the privately owned Lebanese International School when kidnaped in Beirut on Sept. 9, 1986, immediately faced a barrage of television cameras and blazing lights.
Wearing a dark blue, double-breasted suit, a striped tie and a white shirt that seemed loose around the neck, Reed said he wanted to say hello to his wife and family and “tell them that I am happy.”
He said he didn’t want to answer questions or say anything “to harm the other hostages.”
Commenting that it seemed odd to be without his blindfold now that he was free, he said, “I have been blindfolded for 24 hours a day for 3 1/2 years.”
Indicating that he was not literally blindfolded for the entire duration of his captivity, he said that about 2 1/2 years ago, he was given “books to read.”
He said, however, that he turned down his captives’ offer at one point to watch non-news programs on television. “I did not want to be entertained when I had lost my freedom,” he said.
In a communique released Sunday, his captors identified themselves as a previously unknown group, Islamic Dawn.
On his treatment in general, he said: “As far as the food goes that I had, I had adequate food and fresh fruit. I was given an opportunity to bathe, shower. We were given fresh clothes fairly regularly, washed and so on.
“I feel I’m well in terms of the basic organs I have in my body -- my heart, my liver, my kidneys,” he said.
Reed thanked the Lebanese people for allowing him “to establish my own school and for opening homes and hearts to me.”
He also thanked the Syrian government for “all their efforts in helping me become a free man.”
Then he explained what he thought was the difference between “prisoners and hostages.”
“When you are a prisoner,” he said, “you understand that when being a prisoner, you have a sentence, and you know how long you are going to stay.
“We had no information, nothing given to us. We had no information about who they are. Where we are. We had nothing. No radio. No news to go by.
“The second thing, when you are a prisoner, perhaps you have an opportunity to have visitors and see your captors.”
Ambassador Djerejian declared after Reed had spoken: “It is our fervent hope that the release of Mr. Polhill and Dr. Reed will prove to be the beginning of the resolution of this entire issue.”
Thanking Syrian President Hafez Assad and Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh, Djerejian said: “Our Syrian interlocutors have told us that they have worked very closely with the Iranian government on this matter--which we view as an encouraging sign.”
Shareh added that he hoped that this “second gesture of good will” would bring about the release of the remaining foreign hostages in Lebanon.
In a Tehran Times editorial today, Iran for the first time claimed credit for the release of the two Americans within nine days.
“Something miraculous has happened,” the Tehran Times said, because Iran “put in months of hard effort” and “used its maximum power and credibility” to free the first American hostages in more than three years.
However, it warned that it wants reciprocal action from the United States.
After the hand-over, Djerejian escorted Reed into a black Cadillac that took them to the ambassadorial residence.
There, Reed was examined by a Syrian doctor and within hours taken to Damascus airport, where he boarded the C-141 Starlifter that took off for Wiesbaden. Like all released American hostages, he will undergo extensive medical tests and an intelligence debriefing at the U.S. Air Force hospital there.
Earlier, Syrian officials had brought him before Syrian television cameras, where he was asked what captivity was like.
“It was lonely, it was boring,” he replied.
“I’m very happy to be free . . . and I hope my fellow hostages will be freed very soon. I want to say to my family, especially to my son Tarek: ‘Daddy is well . . . and will be home very soon.’ ”
Asked why he thought he was captured, he replied: “No one ever said why I was taken. The bottom line was, I was an American.”
Hours before Reed’s release, according to the Associated Press, a senior Iranian official said Tehran will continue its efforts to release all hostages in Lebanon.
“We . . . are strongly optimistic that all the Western hostages held in Lebanon will be released,” First Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Mohammed Besharati told a news conference in the Persian Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi.
While almost no opposition was expressed in the Iranian press after Polhill’s release, radicals were up in arms when Deputy President Ayatollah Mohajerani called for direct talks with Washington in an article printed in the Ettelaat daily on Thursday.
Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, a leading hard-liner and former interior minister, denounced Mohajerani’s article, saying it amounted to “begging mercy from the Great Satan.”
College students marched through Tehran University on Sunday to denounce his calls for talks with the United States.
Confusion surrounds the identity of Reed’s captors.
A previously unknown group called Islamic Dawn claimed in one of the two messages Sunday to be holding Reed. However, the last previous communication on Reed, dated Sept. 14, 1986, said he was a captive of the Arab Revolutionary Cells-Omar Mukhtar Brigade.
The Omar Mukhtar group was initially believed to have a Libyan connection. Omar Mukhtar was a Libyan resistance fighter against the Italian occupation. However, for at least two years, U.S. officials have believed Reed was held instead by a wing of Islamic Jihad, which also holds American hostages Terry A. Anderson and Thomas Sutherland.
Two captives of Islamic Jihad reported seeing Reed. David P. Jacobsen, a U.S. hostage released Nov. 2, 1986, reported communicating with Reed, who was held in the next room. French hostage Jean-Paul Kauffmann, who was freed in 1988, indicated he saw Reed in captivity.
The Arab Revolutionary Cells also claimed to have abducted U.S. hostage Joseph J. Cicippio in 1986, but he is widely thought to be held by the Revolutionary Justice Organization.
Islamic Dawn objected Monday when news reports linked Reed’s seizure to the Omar Mukhtar Brigade.
Most Western intelligence sources believe that a pro-Iranian Shiite organization known as Hezbollah (Party of God) is an umbrella group to which most of the groups holding foreign hostages in Lebanon belong.
Diplomatic specialists in Washington and the Middle East suggest that the two American hostages have been released in the short space of nine days because both Iran and Libya, who have great influence with Shiite militants in Lebanon, hope to improve relations with the West.
But some of the groups holding the hostages, it is believed, still insist that Palestinian prisoners held in jails in various Middle Eastern countries be released, a demand that nations such as the United States and Israel say they will not meet lest they appear to be giving in to terrorism.
Of the remaining Western hostages, Anderson, who was Middle East bureau chief for the Associated Press, has been held the longest. He was abducted on March 16, 1985.
Times staff writer Robin Wright, in Washington, contributed to this report.
AMERICANS STILL HELD IN LEBANON
With the release of hostage Frank H. Reed, there are six Americans still held hostage in Lebanon. Here are those still held, listed by how long they have been captive: 1. Terry A. Anderson, 42, chief Middle East correspondent of The Associated Press. Islamic Jihad, a faction of the pro-Iranian Shite group called Hezbollah (Party of God) claims to be holding him. 2. Thomas Sutherland, 58, acting dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut. Islamic Jihad also holds him. 3. Joseph James Cicippio, 59, acting comptroller at the American University in Beirut. Held by a group called the Revolutionary Justice Organization. 4. Edward Austin Tracy, 59, a resident of West Beirut resident. The Revolutionary Justice Organization claims to have abducted him. 5. Alann Steen, 51, a communications instructor at Beirut University College. Kidnaped along with three colleagues by a group called the Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine. That group released one of the three, Mithileshwar Singh, in 1988 and another, Robert Polhill, last week. 6. Jesse Jonathan Turner, 42, professor of mathematics and computer science at Beirut University College kidnapped along with Steen, Polhill and Singh.