YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

4 Soviets Kidnaped at Gunpoint in W. Beirut : Islamic Jihad Believed Responsible; Pressure on Kremlin to Help End Tripoli Fighting Indicated

October 01, 1985|CHARLES P. WALLACE | Times Staff Writer

AMMAN, Jordan — Three Soviet diplomats and a doctor from the Soviet Embassy in Beirut were kidnaped at gunpoint Monday in predominantly Muslim West Beirut in what may be a move calculated to bring pressure against the Soviet Union to end factional fighting in the northern port of Tripoli.

Gunmen dragged the four Soviets from their official cars and fired bullets at their feet, witnesses said. Two Soviet Embassy cars were later found abandoned near the Beirut airport, according to radio reports.

An anonymous caller told a news agency in Beirut that the radical Muslim organization known as Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War) was responsible for the kidnapings. He said the four will be executed "very soon" unless Moscow brings pressure on its ally Syria to halt the "annihilation of Muslims in Tripoli with Soviet tanks and artillery guns."

Tripoli Battle Goes On

Syrian-supported leftist militias, including the Moscow-oriented Lebanese Communist Party, have been trying to drive an anti-Syrian Muslim faction out of Tripoli, the port city north of Beirut. The bloody battle for control of Tripoli, now two weeks old, continued Monday.

The kidnapings were the first involving Soviet Bloc diplomats in Beirut. Thirty-five other foreigners have been seized in a series of kidnapings that began in early 1984, and 14 of them--six Americans, three Britons, four Frenchmen and an Italian--are still missing.

Lebanese authorities identified the kidnaped Soviets as Valery Kornev, an embassy second secretary; Oleg Spirin, a commercial attache; Arkady Katakov, a cultural attache, and Nikolai Versky, the embassy physician.

Witnesses were quoted as saying that the kidnapers intercepted one Soviet Embassy auto, pulled out two diplomats and fired their weapons at the victims' feet before pushing them into a waiting white car. The other two men were pulled from another Soviet car.

A Soviet Embassy spokesman confirmed the kidnapings but declined to provide details.

The Soviets have maintained strong relations with nearly all the militia groups in West Beirut, largely on the strength of their arms supplies, which are either channeled through Syria or brought in directly.

Fundamentalist Shia Muslims are believed to be holding four of the missing Americans and the Frenchmen, although the captors of the Britons, including two women kidnaped last week, and an Italian businessman are not known.

The Rev. Benjamin Weir, a Presbyterian clergyman who was taken hostage in March, 1984, and released last month, said the captors of the Americans are demanding the release of 17 comrades jailed in Kuwait for carrying out terrorist bombings there in 1983.

Kuwait Stands Firm

Kuwait has refused to free any of the men, including three sentenced to death.

An anonymous telephone caller told news agencies in Beirut on Sunday that the remaining Americans would be presented at a news conference soon, but no details have been provided, and there is no way to gauge the authenticity of the call.

In Washington, presidential spokesman Larry Speakes said, "We would, of course, welcome any firsthand evidence of the well-being and the actual situation of the hostages."

Speakes reiterated the Administration's refusal to make concessions to terrorists to obtain the hostages' release but added, "We're willing to talk to any party in order to obtain their safe and prompt release."

Details Not Revealed

He refused to say whether the United States has been in direct contact with the kidnapers, saying he would not discuss "how we're dealing with this."

Reports from Tripoli described massive artillery and rocket barrages falling on the city Monday from Syrian-controlled areas, aimed at dislodging forces of the anti-Syrian Tawhid, a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim militia.

After the latest outbreak of fighting, the Syrians tried to arrange a cease-fire that would have required both sides to surrender their arms to the Lebanese army under Syrian auspices.

It appeared after the failure of the talks, however, that Syria has resolved to end the fundamentalist presence in Tripoli for good.

Los Angeles Times Articles