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French Embassy Aide Freed in Beirut; Mysterious Group Foretold Her Release

April 01, 1985|Associated Press

BEIRUT — French Embassy employee Danielle Perez was freed unharmed Sunday after 10 days in captivity--the third Westerner whose release was foretold by a mysterious group calling itself the Khaibar Brigades, which claimed responsibility for all three kidnapings.

Six other Westerners are still missing after being abducted at gunpoint or disappearing since March 14. In all, 10 Westerners, including five Americans, are believed still being held.

British oil company executive Brian Levick, 59, freed Saturday, said he believes he was kidnaped because he was mistaken for an American. Levick said he learned little about his abductors except that they seemed to be Muslims with "strong religious beliefs."

Geoffrey Nash, 60, a British metallurgist, was freed Wednesday after being held for two weeks.

Police said a rash of kidnapings of Lebanese Jews continued Sunday with the abduction of Ishak Sassoun, dragged from his home by three gunmen. He was the fourth Jew abducted in four days.

'In Excellent Health'

French Embassy spokesman Marcel L'Augel confirmed Perez's release but refused to give details. He said the embassy's 34-year-old cultural section secretary "was well treated, and she is in excellent health."

In London, the Sunday Times reported that the United States has threatened military retaliation against Iran if Americans abducted in Lebanon by pro-Iranian factions are tried or executed. The newspaper, quoting unidentified Western intelligence sources, said the warning was given to Iran in a message from the White House conveyed by the Swiss diplomatic mission in Tehran in early March.

The message did not specify possible retaliation, but the sources said the U.S. guided missile cruiser Texas, now in the Persian Gulf area, might be used to strike at Iranian ports, the Sunday Times said.

Appropriate Response

Asked about the newspaper report, State Department spokeswoman Anita Stockman said in Washington, "We don't comment on communications we may or may not have had with other governments." But she added, "President Reagan and other Administration officials have expressed our determination to respond with whatever actions we deem most appropriate against those responsible for terrorist attacks."

Perez disappeared along with her father, embassy protocol officer Marcel Carton, 62, while the two were en route to their offices in mostly Muslim West Beirut on March 22.

French Vice Consul Marcel Fontaine, 45, was kidnaped near the embassy the same day. Another Frenchman, Gilles Peyrolles, 32, head of the French cultural center in northern Lebanon's port city of Tripoli, has been missing since March 23.

No Word on Others

L'Augel said there was no word on the French citizens still missing.

Nor was there news of these kidnaped or missing foreigners: American Terry A. Anderson, 37, chief Middle East correspondent of the Associated Press; Father Nicolas Kluiters, 44, Dutch Roman Catholic priest, and Alec Collett, 63, a British writer.

Anonymous phone callers have claimed responsibility for most of the abductions in the name of Islamic Jihad (Holy War), believed composed of radical Shia Muslims loyal to Iran.

In separate statements Sunday, two senior Shia clergymen--Sheik Mohammed Mehdi Shamseddine and Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah--condemned the kidnaping of foreigners and said they are working to secure the release of the victims.

Responsibility for the abductions of Perez, Carton, Fontaine, Levick and Nash was claimed by the Khaibar Brigades, unheard of until it predicted the three releases that have since taken place.

Named After Jewish Village

The group takes its name from a Jewish village in what is now Saudi Arabia that rejected the Islamic prophet Mohammed in the 7th Century and later was overrun by Muslims.

It has not indicated motives for the kidnapings.

In a statement to a Western news agency last week, the Khaibar Brigades said it held three French and two British citizens missing in West Beirut and promised to release the two Britons and Perez "very soon."

Nash was freed the next day.

Levick told reporters Sunday: "I had a great deal of difficulty in convincing them that I was English. They appeared to have a very deeply felt view that I was an American." He said he was interrogated "four or five times."

"My general treatment was good," he said. "It was cold. . . . I was given adequate blankets to keep me warm."

Flanked by his wife, Ann, Levick looked tired and spoke slowly. "I feel weak and weepy," he said.

Sidon Shooting Continues

Elsewhere in Lebanon, artillery shelling and automatic gunfire shook the southern port city of Sidon on Sunday as Christian fighters battled Muslim militiamen and Palestinian guerrillas for a third straight day.

The clashes continued a weekend of violence in which at least 51 people have died and more than 140 have been wounded, according to police reports.

Shortly before dark, 15 artillery shells crashed into Ein el Hilwa, a Palestinian refugee camp.

The battles brought the toll from the three days of fighting to 40 dead and more than 130 wounded by official police count. But Sidon's mayor, Ahmed Kalash, said at least 40 died on Saturday alone.

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