In a city of 1.4 million people and a reputation for chaos, is it possible that a letter with only a name and “Beirut” for an address can be delivered? The answer is yes, if that name is Terry Anderson.
Now 43, Anderson was kidnaped March 16, 1985 in Beirut. He was, at the time, chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press.
Today, Anderson begins his seventh year as a captive and as the longest held of the 11 Western hostages in Lebanon, including five other Americans.
To underscore Anderson’s plight, his sister, Peggy Say, organized letter-writing campaigns that touched off a unique show of support for American’s best-known hostage in Lebanon.
Thousands of cards, valentines and letters flooded Beirut. Perhaps on the chance that a leftist newspaper could serve as go-between, the Arabic-language daily As Safir became linked with Anderson’s name and acquired the role of postmaster for all 11 Western hostages.
But As Safir’s deputy editor, Mohammed Mashmushi, says: “For us also, it’s a big question why they send us the letters. We received some letters at the beginning and wrote a story. We thought it would help the hostages.”
He admits that there is no way to deliver what now amounts to boxes of holiday greetings, books and children’s drawings.
Although much of the mail for Anderson carries As Safir’s full address, many letters survive the rigors of the international postal system with just “Terry Anderson, Beirut” on the envelope.
Variations of this basic address include: Terry Anderson, c/o the Kidnapers, or Islamic Jihad (the organization claiming to hold Anderson), Hezbollah (a fundamentalist Shiite Muslim group to which the captors of all hostages are believed to have links), or, right to the point, Terry Anderson, Hostage in Beirut. As the longest-held captive, Anderson is seen as a sort of spokesman for the others, and cards are often addressed, “Hstages, c/o Terry Anderson.”
At the main Beirut post office, head employee Ahmed Khalid says that Anderson and the other hostages have all become well-known figures. No problem, he says, if only their names plus “Beirut” appear on the envelopes.
“Once in a while, a new employee will bring me such a letter and ask, ‘Is this for the president (of Lebanon)?'--assuming the person must be the most important in the country.”
The messages from schoolchildren, whose teachers have involved them in letter-writing campaigns, bring both tears and smiles to the faces of those who read them at the offices of As Safir.
Glen, an 8th grader, wrote: “I hope you get out soon so you can see your child.” Anderson’s daughter, Sulome, was born less than three months after he was kidnaped.
One child wrote about captivity from his own point of view. “I hope that you are all freed. It’s bad enough going to my room. I feel like a captive there, but it’s different with you. You’re being held captive for practically nothing.”
A third grader sent a drawing showing Anderson walking up a long winding road toward a house, hands raised in victory and saying, “I’m home.”
Letters from adults carry a standard message. “Don’t ever lose hope. So many people are praying for your return. We have not forgotten you,” one woman wrote.
Say’s long campaign to keep her brother’s plight in the public eye is mentioned in a number of recent letters. “She’s doing all she can to free you,” a minister wrote.
But public awareness brought one letter against its will to Beirut. Tucked in among Anderson’s mail is a Christmas card from Valley Cottage, N.Y., addressed to a family named Anderson in Mount Lebanon, Pa. Apparently the mailman drew the wrong conclusion when he saw “Anderson” and “Lebanon,” putting the card in the Beirut-bound bag. Once here, the Lebanese postal employees finished the job and forwarded the card to As Safir.
One well-wisher, concerned with her own security, used “An admirer of Terry Anderson” as a return address and ended her letter with, “I would sign this, but I do not want to be a victim.”
The kidnapers are just as concerned about maintaining anonymity. Their “mailmen” are in their early 20s, neatly bearded and dressed inconspicuously. Each delivery of a statement, photo or video of one of the hostages is made by a new “employee.”
Islamic Jihad has sent out three videos of Anderson, most recently in late October, 1988.
Often, such an item is handed over with a piece of Kleenex--insurance against leaving fingerprints.
As it has in other years, Anderson’s family ran messages of love and support in the local press today to mark the end of his 6th year of captivity. Brian Keenan, an Irish hostage released last August, was held part of the time with Anderson and said that the kidnapers allowed them to see these messages.
WESTERN HOSTAGES MISSING IN LEBANON U.S.: TERRY A. ANDERSON U.S.: THOMAS SUTHERLAND Italy: ALBERTO MOLINARI Britain: JOHN McCARTHY U.S.: JOSEPH J. CICIPPIO U.S.: EDWARD A. TRACY Britain: TERRY WAITE U.S.: ALANN STEEN U.S.: JESSE TURNER Germany: HEINRICH STRUEBIG Germany: THOMAS KEMPTNER