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Mystery deepens over
kidnapped Czechs

One of the abducted Czech nationals had worked in his country's military intelligence.

Van that transported missing Czechs. (image via almustaqbal.org)

BEIRUT – Mystery has swirled over the reported kidnapping of five Czech nationals in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, with an online investigation revealing that one of the missing Czechs had been involved in his country's military intelligence.

 

The five Czech men and their driver, Saeb Taan-Fayyad, went missing Friday in the Bekaa town of Kefraya. Their passports and luggage were discovered Saturday in an abandoned vehicle.

 

Lebanon’s state National News Agency initially reported that the men had been kidnapped as part of an operation to secure the release of a Lebanese national being held in the Czech Republic – a reference to Ali Taan-Fayyad, who was arrested in April 2014 in Prague and faces extradition to the US.

 

Fayyad, who holds Ukrainian citizenship and worked for the country’s state-run Ukrspecexport arms company, was detained in the Czech Republic on charges of attempting to sell arms and cocaine to undercover US agents pretending to be Colombian terrorists.

 

Lebanese media quickly linked the missing driver to Ali Fayyad, with reports all saying that they were brothers who hailed from the same village in southern Lebanon.

 

Ali Fayyad’s relatives had earlier in May staged a protest outside the Czech Embassy north of Beirut demanding his immediate release.

 

Despite the reports, no official claims of responsibility or demands have been made to the press and the fate of the missing Czechs has remained shrouded in mystery.

 

One of Fayyad’s lawyers in the Czech Republic, Vladimir Ricica, told the country’s state CTK news agency that the disappearance of the Czechs had nothing to do with his client. However, he added that one of the kidnapped men in Lebanon had been defending Fayyad.

 

Military intelligence

 

Media outlets have reported that the kidnapped Czechs included journalists and one of Fayyad’s defense lawyers, while a Lebanese daily said an undercover security official was among the abducted men.

 

Czech daily Blesk on Monday published an article profiling the five men, identifying them as: Adam H., a translator of Syrian descent; Jan S., a lawyer defending Fayyad, Miroslav D., a television cameraman, Pavel K., another television journalist, and Martin P., whose profession the newspaper could not determine. 

 

The newspaper’s report mirrored that of Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which said that there were two journalists, a translator and a lawyer among the kidnapped Czechs, while the fifth man’s job was a mystery.

 

In a further twist to the already mysterious incident, French-language Lebanese daily L’Orient Le Jour reported Monday that the fifth person is “a high-ranking security officer who was visiting Lebanon for the first time and preferred to stay anonymous.”

 

A cross-reference of the photocopies of all the men's passports (which was published by As-Safir) indicates that the mysterious fifth man was Martin Psik, who is listed on a Czech armed force's University of Defense document as a doctoral student involved in the country's military intelligence. 

 

Czech biography

Biography of Martin Psik via Czech University of Defense. (http://www.unob.cz/)

 

The Czech Foreign Ministry, for its, part, said it knew the identity of all five of the missing men but would not release information on them so as not to jeopardize the ongoing investigation.

 

In another report, Al-Hayat cited information received from security sources as saying that the five Czechs had already visited Lebanon one month ago.

“They traveled around central and northern Bekaa and interviewed the mayor of Hermel, according to a witness,” the London-based daily reported early Monday.

 

“One of the Czechs had a press card and another was a Syrian national with Czech citizenship.”

 

Taken to the south?

 

Amid the ongoing investigation into the incident, Czech authorities announced that they have been cooperating with Lebanese security services and regional intelligence agencies to resolve the kidnapping.

 

“A number of intelligence services operate in the region. The Czech Republic is in contact with many of them and will use their assistance,” Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek told reporters Monday.

 

Al-Hayat, in turn, reported that “investigations are underway to establish whether the Lebanese person who was with them is the person who took them from the airport and traveled around with them on their previous visit to Lebanon.”

 

“Investigations are focusing on analysis of call data, and [CCTV recordings] from cameras on the roads where the lost individuals are likely to have traveled in one or more cars.”

 

“This is [being done] to establish which way the lost individuals were headed and whether they passed through the southern village of Machghara.”

 

Meanwhile, a security source told Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai that the five Czechs had probably “been transferred to a border village in south Lebanon.”

 

The newspaper added that Saeb Taan-Fayyad—the Lebanese national who disappeared with the Czechs—was a resident of the south Lebanese village of Ansar and an Ogero employee who probably “monitored the five Czechs from Beirut airport, after pretending to be a taxi driver and offering to pick them up.”

Security officers inspect the van that was transporting the kidnapped Czechs. (image via almustaqbal.org)

Meanwhile, a security source told Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai that the five Czechs had probably “been transferred to a border village in south Lebanon.”