BEIRUT — An underground group today threatened to kill three American hostages and an Indian hostage if U.S. forces attack Lebanon.
The threat came in a handwritten Arabic statement from Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine that was delivered to the Beirut office of a Western news agency. The previously unknown group issued a statement Wednesday claiming it kidnaped the four teachers.
The statement issued today was accompanied by a photograph of hostage Robert Polhill, 53, of New York City. The photograph showed Polhill with two submachine guns pointed at his head.
The Pentagon announced earlier this week that it had postponed indefinitely the departure for home from the Mediterranean of the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy and its 11-ship battle group. Another carrier, the Nimitz, which had been scheduled to relieve the Kennedy, is also operating in the Mediterranean.
The Pentagon gave no reason for the change in plans. But informed sources said the Reagan Administration decided it should keep two carriers in the Mediterranean in light of the wave of hostage-taking in Lebanon.
Today's statement by the underground group said: "After it was ascertained for us that the United States harbors the intention to attack Lebanon with the help of other Western nations, the Islamic Jihad Organization for the Liberation of Palestine declares it will execute the four American hostages as an initial countermeasure upon the occurrence of this aggression. Other operations will follow in adequate places."
Angry students from Beirut University College, where the four were teachers, burned tires and blocked traffic in West Beirut today to protest the abductions, which took place Saturday at the school.
Wednesday's statement said the four were taken because they were carrying out "American intrigues."
The four were kidnaped by gunmen posing as Lebanese police. Wednesday's statement said they were "conspirators under the pretext of education."
That statement was also accompanied by a black-and-white picture of Polhill, an accounting lecturer from New York. In that photo he wore a white T-shirt and glasses and stared at the camera with a slight smile.
The statement accused the hostages of "using the facade of teaching to carry out American intrigues at Beirut University College."
Abducted with Polhill were Alann Steen, 47, a native of Boston, a communications instructor; Jesse Turner, 39, a native of Boise, Ida., a visiting professor of mathematics and computer science, and Mithileshwar Singh, 60, a visiting professor of finance. He is an Indian with resident alien status in the United States.
A photo of Singh with the same claim of responsibility was sent to the Beirut newspaper An-Nahar.