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2 French Hostages Freed in Beirut by Shia Muslims

November 27, 1987|Associated Press

BEIRUT — Two French hostages--one of whom had mistakenly thought that he was being held by Palestinians--were released in West Beirut today by their Shia Muslim captors.

Jean-Louis Normandin and Roger Auque were released at 6:30 p.m. They appeared unharmed.

The two former captives, surrounded by scores of French Embassy officials and Syrian secret servicemen, walked separately to the main gate of the seaside Summerland Hotel under the firing flash units of news photographers.

Officers from a Syrian army contingent in charge of West Beirut's security immediately took delivery of the men and whisked them into the hotel lobby.

The Revolutionary Justice Organization, a pro-Iranian group, had earlier said it would release two Frenchmen today because of "positive indications" from the French government.

French Ambassador Paul Blanc and his senior aides greeted the men in the hotel lobby.

Remark Stuns Reporters

Auque, 31, a free-lance journalist kidnaped Jan. 13, stunned reporters when he said after his arrival inside the hotel: "I was with the Palestinians. Some are fighters but others are terrorists."

He refused to comment when told that he was held by Revolutionary Justice, an underground Shia militant faction loyal to Iran's revolutionary patriarch, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Witnesses said Auque and Normandin were dropped near the Summerland's main gate from two separate cars.

"The rear door of each car was open as it screeched to a halt. Bodyguards of the French military attache hauled each hostage roughly out of the incoming cars that immediately sped off," said one witness.

The statement in Arabic from the Revolutionary Justice Organization had been delivered to the independent Beirut newspaper An Nahar late Thursday.

'Some Struggler Friends'

"In response to the mediation and desire of some struggler friends, the Revolutionary Justice Organization announces its wish to free two French hostages within the next 24 hours," the statement said.

Accompanying the statement was a photograph of Normandin, 36, a lighting engineer for France's Antenne 2 television news.

Normandin, abducted March 8, 1986, in West Beirut, was the only one of six French hostages kidnaped in Lebanon that Revolutionary Justice had claimed to hold.

Auque's kidnaping was not claimed by any group.

In Paris, French President Francois Mitterrand issued a statement to Normandin and Auque: "The French people, who have not forgotten the trials of our hostages in Lebanon, learned of your release with emotion," it said.

Elie Vanier, news director of Antenne 2, said he felt "intense joy, relief and satisfaction" about the release.

Missing Briton

Before today's releases, 22 foreigners, including eight Americans, were missing after being kidnaped in Lebanon. In addition, Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite has been missing since dropping out of sight after he left his West Beirut hotel Jan. 20 to negotiate with hostage holders.

Held longest is Terry Anderson, 40, chief Middle East correspondent of the Associated Press. He was kidnaped March 16, 1985.

The militant Shia faction Islamic Jihad claims to hold the other four Frenchmen missing in Lebanon.

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