BEIRUT — A British reporter said he fought his way to freedom Friday after kidnapers pulled him out of a taxi while his three armed escorts were fixing a flat tire.
David Hirst, correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, said he was grabbed by three gunmen about 6:45 a.m. on the Muslim side of the Green Line that splits Beirut into Christian and Muslim sectors.
Hirst, 50, said the trio shoved him into the rear seat of a BMW automobile, blindfolded him and sped off. A gun was pointed to his left temple.
'Tore off the Blindfold'
"I shouted and struggled. I tried to make as much noise as I could, especially when the car stopped or slowed down at traffic jams. . . . I tore off the blindfold," Hirst told reporters as he sipped a cold beer at the office of a Western news agency in Muslim West Beirut.
He said the abductors stopped at a "concrete hovel house" on the southern outskirts of Beirut, and one gunman stepped out.
"Somehow, I managed to open the door of the car. A general struggle ensued, and I was shouting at the top of my voice."
The gunmen shouted at him in English, "I kill you! I kill you!" but the reporter said he broke away, bolted down an alley and jumped into a passing taxi.
'A Real Miracle'
"My escape took my abductors by surprise. They were panicked and paralyzed and made no effort to follow me. It was a real miracle," he said.
Hirst said the gunmen claimed to be from the security department of Justice Minister Nabih Berri's Shia Amal militia.
"They pretended to be Amal. They didn't appear to belong to any of the local militias. They were zoran (Arabic for thugs)," Hirst said.
"I was being cautious in my movements," he said. "I knew the situation was dangerous for foreigners here, but I was taking precautions. I had bodyguards escorting me today (Friday), but I do not blame them for leaving me alone with the driver to repair the flat tire."
'I Think I Will Stay On'
Asked whether he would leave Lebanon after Friday's events, Hirst replied: "I think I will stay on in Beirut. I haven't made up my mind yet. . . . It was a very unpleasant experience."
Hirst is one of three British journalists who have remained in West Beirut since April when most Westerners were evacuated following a wave of kidnapings and killings to avenge the U.S. air strike on Libya on April 15.
At least 19 foreigners are missing in Lebanon. The pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad said it holds three of six missing Americans and claims that it executed one American and one Frenchman, but no bodies have been found. There are also two British hostages in Lebanon.
Hirst, whose London-based newspaper is a liberal daily with a circulation of about 500,000, is a veteran reporter of Middle East wars and the author of a history of Arab-Israeli conflict titled "The Gun and the Olive Branch."
In London, the Guardian said Hirst has lived in the Middle East since he was 23. The Oxford-educated newsman studied at the American University of Beirut and joined the newspaper's staff in 1972.
One journalist is among the missing Americans who were kidnaped in Lebanon. He is Terry A. Anderson, 38, chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press. He was abducted on March 16, 1985.