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Gunmen Kidnap Three Americans, 4th Man in Beirut

January 25, 1987|RUDY ABRAMSON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Gunmen in police uniforms kidnaped four teachers, at least three of them Americans, from a college campus in Muslim West Beirut on Saturday night, according to eyewitnesses and college officials.

The latest escalation in terrorism against Westerners in the Lebanese capital brought to 22 the number of foreigners confirmed missing in Lebanon and believed to be held by Muslim extremists.

Reports from the Lebanese capital said that the kidnapers, wearing olive green uniforms and red berets, gained access to the campus of Beirut University College on the pretense of providing security for foreign faculty members. After calling the foreign professors to a meeting, the gunmen leveled their weapons at the four men, took them captive and sped away in a police vehicle.

Guards Not Suspicious

Guards on the campus staff, who were apparently not suspicious at police offering additional security for foreigners in the Muslim sector of the city, were quoted as saying that the dean of the college, a woman who was not identified, had also gone to the meeting when the group was summoned, but she was not abducted or harmed.

The college identified the latest victims of a round of kidnapings that has now swept up as many as eight Westerners since Jan. 12 as:

--Jesse Turner, an assistant mathematics and computer sciences instructor. He reportedly was a visiting professor at UC Riverside in 1982.

--Robert Polhill, 56, assistant professor of business studies.

--Alann Steen, 48, a journalism professor and former instructor at Chico State University.

--Mithileshwar Singh, a professor of business and finance and chairman of the business department. The college said Singh had an American green card--a work permit for a legal alien--and a State Department spokesman said he is possibly a permanent legal resident of the United States.

Shortly after the abduction, the college issued a statement appealing to the kidnapers to release Polhill and Singh on humanitarian grounds. An official of the school told CBS News that both Polhill and Singh have health problems which require them to take medication.

Reaction to the latest kidnaping of American hostages came quickly. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) declared that it is now time for all Americans to leave Beirut, and Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested that the new hostage-taking might have been encouraged by the Iran- contras scandal.

"My hunch," Pell said in an interview on Cable News Network, "is that the trading of arms for hostages was an encouraging factor to the kidnapers."

Iran Ties to Kidnapers

Pell's comment, reflecting the explosively controversial nature of the hostage issue as it has mushroomed in recent months, referred to the Administration's unsuccessful clandestine attempts to use arms shipments to improve relations with Iran's revolutionary regime, which is considered to be influential with the Muslim extremists believed to be responsible for the kidnapings.

The kidnapings took place about 7 p.m. local time in a section that was once the most well-to-do neighborhood of West Beirut.

Shortly after the reports reached Washington, the office of national security adviser Frank C. Carlucci relayed the word to President Reagan, who was spending the weekend at Camp David, Md.

White House spokesman Roman Popadiuk said the President "expressed deep concern and requested that he be kept abreast of the issue as events unfold."

The State Department later issued a statement deploring the taking of more hostages, but spokesmen refused to publicly link the upsurge in kidnapings to this country's efforts to extradite Mohammed Ali Hamadi from West Germany to be tried on murder charges growing out of the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner to Beirut.

At the time of the Saturday night episode, five Americans were already being held hostage by extremist groups in Lebanon, and an intensive effort was apparently under way to negotiate the freedom of at least some of them.

Word From Waite

Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite, who has long sought freedom for Western kidnap victims through negotiations with the terrorist groups in the Middle East, has been in Lebanon since Jan. 12. Concerns had arisen over his safety because he had not been seen since he left his Beirut hotel four days ago escorted by Druze militiamen.

A statement by the church Saturday said that Waite had been in contact with Anglican officials and that he was continuing his effort to secure the release of hostages.

"Both our contact and Terry Waite's host tell us that Terry Waite is continuing his conversations and is safe and well," the church statement said. One unconfirmed report on the Christian Voice of Lebanon radio Saturday said that Waite, who is the personal representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was headed back for his hotel after his negotiations at Baalbek in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley, the area where the hostages are believed held.

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