Release of a Western hostage, possibly Irishman Brian Keenan, a teacher held captive for four years, was unofficially reported Monday to be in the works in Beirut, but an Irish diplomat said, "We still do not have any concrete information."
A report by the British news agency Reuters from the Lebanese capital quoted unidentified pro-Syrian security sources as saying the kidnapers of a European had contacted Syrian army headquarters Monday seeking arrangements for the release of their captive. The report did not identify the kidnapers but speculated that the hostage is Keenan.
The 40-year-old educator, who was snatched off a city street on his way to teach a class in English at American University of Beirut in April, 1986, is one of 16 Westerners, including six Americans, reportedly held hostage in Beirut.
Iran denies direct links to hostage-takers. But most Western hostages are believed held by groups linked to the fundamentalist Hezbollah (Party of God), which receives financial aid from Tehran.
Word that a hostage might be released this week surfaced Saturday in a report from IRNA, the official Iranian news agency, quoting sources in Beirut.
The last hostages freed were Americans Robert Polhill and Frank H. Reed, who were turned over to Syrian military officials in Muslim West Beirut a week apart in April, then driven to Damascus, where U.S. Embassy officials were waiting for them.
Presumably, a release of Keenan would follow the same pattern, and in Dublin, the Irish capital, Reuters reported that a government plane was on the runway, prepared to fly to Damascus if the release of Keenan is confirmed.
If the Polhill and Reed pattern applies, the identity of the freed hostage will not be known until he is handed over to the Syrian military, which has been involved in previous hostage releases.
"We are very hopeful, but we still do not have any concrete information," Declan Connolly, Ireland's ambassador to Syria, said in Damascus.
Keenan became the focus of speculation over the weekend, mainly because of his nationality. He has both British and Irish citizenship but carries an Irish passport, and the Irish are more politically acceptable in Iran than Americans or Britons. The only non-British European believed held in Beirut is an Italian, Alberto Molinari, but no kidnap group has ever claimed to hold him.
Press reports from Beirut noted that a group of Irish parliamentarians had visited Tehran in June and pressed an appeal for Keenan's release. One of the lawmakers, David Andrews, said Monday, "Very guarded optimism is now justified."
Ireland was also among the first Western nations to send relief aid to Tehran for survivors of last month's massive earthquake, and Reuters and other news organs have quoted pro-Iranian sources in Lebanon as saying a European would be released in response to the relief aid sent by Western nations.