BEIRUT — The American director of a private West Beirut school was kidnaped from his car Tuesday, and the pro-Iranian, fundamentalist Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War) group claimed responsibility.
It was the first abduction of an American in Lebanon in more than a year.
An anonymous caller told a foreign news agency that Islamic Jihad abducted Frank Herbert Reed, of Malden, Mass., a Muslim convert who had lived in Lebanon for eight years. It accused him of being "a new agent for American intelligence" who was seized "after being found in possession of condemning documents."
First Since Syrian Arrival
The kidnaping was the first of any Westerner in West Beirut since hundreds of Syrian troops were deployed there July 4 as part of a security force intended to halt violence between rival Lebanese factions.
In 1984 and 1985, however, dozens of foreigners were kidnaped, most of them by militant Shia Muslim factions, and few Westerners remain in Muslim West Beirut. At least 19 foreigners are known to be missing in Lebanon, including at least four other Americans that Islamic Jihad claims to have kidnaped.
It is often difficult to verify the authenticity of kidnaping claims, but the statement read by the caller Tuesday reportedly contained personal details about Reed, variously reported to be 53 or 54 years old.
The caller said a photograph of Reed will be delivered later to offices of international news agencies--a device that Islamic Jihad has used in the past to establish the authenticity of its anonymous claims.
Reed, director of the Lebanese International School, was with his driver and another man, believed to be a guard, when he was seized on his way to the private Beirut Golf Club by unknown gunmen who accosted him, security sources and a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.
The golf club is on the edge of Palestinian refugee camps and Shia Muslim suburbs. The kidnaping took place a few hundred yards away from the Beau Rivage Hotel, headquarters for Syrian military observers and intelligence officials supervising a shaky security plan.
The educator had stayed away from West Beirut after a wave of kidnapings and killings, running the school through subordinates and a Lebanese partner. However, close friends said he returned to West Beirut several days ago to join his wife, Fahmiya, a Syrian resident of Lebanon, and his son, Tarek, 6.
Islamic Jihad charged that Reed's educational post was merely a "cover-up for his espionage activities."
Reed "believed that by embracing Islam, he could throw ashes into the eyes of true Muslims who have uncovered his game," the statement added. Reed converted to Islam to marry into the conservative Sunni Muslim family of his wife.
The Islamic Jihad statement made no specific demands. Previously, the group has offered to trade American and French captives for Shia Muslim and other Arab activists held in Kuwaiti jails after being convicted of involvement in bombings there in 1983.
(In Washington, State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said, "We call on those who may be holding Mr. Reed, as well as the other foreign hostages in Lebanon, to release their captives immediately. We remind them further that we hold them responsible for the well-being of their captives.")
(In Boston, relatives rejected the allegation that Reed was a spy, describing him as a committed educator, the Associated Press reported. "We were just horrified," his sister-in-law Jean Reed said of the charge. "We just know that's not true.")
Other Americans believed kidnaped by Islamic Jihad are Terry A. Anderson, the Associated Press bureau chief in Beirut; David P. Jacobsen, director of the American University Hospital; Thomas Sutherland, dean of the university's school of agriculture, and U.S. diplomat William Buckley.
Islamic Jihad claims it killed Buckley, but his body has never been found. The group released Father Lawrence M. Jenco, local director of Catholic Relief Services, on July 26, and the Rev. Benjamin Weir, a Presbyterian minister, a year ago.