Seven Estonians kidnapped in Lebanon finally return home, without closing kidnap file
Finally, the seven Estonians’ cause saw a happy ending and the seven tourists, who were kidnapped in Lebanon, were released.
On Friday, and less than 24 hours after their release, the seven men returned to their Baltic homeland. A special Estonian Air plane carrying them landed in rainy Tallinn shortly before 4:00 am (01:00 GMT) Friday after having flown to the Lebanese capital Beirut to collect them.
"We were held in three different secret locations by the eight terrorists. The big advantage was we were together, and that unity gave us the strength to believe we would see a happy end," one of the seven Estonians, named Madis Paluoja, told reporters at Tallinn airport. "At one point we all lived in the same room with the eight kidnappers and their eight Kalashnikovs," he added.
The abductors - believed to be a previously unknown group called Haraket al-Nahda Wal-Islah (Movement for Renewal and Reform) - had reportedly demanded a ransom. The cyclists had appealed for help in videos posted on the Internet in April and May. "We were not told what the kidnappers want and we have no information about them asking for money," Paluoja said. "All the text we read in the videos was written for us."
Besides Paluoja, the other freed men were Jaan Jagomagi, Kalev Kaosaar, Martin Metspalu, Andre Pukk, Priit Raistik and August Tillo. They met with relatives in private at the airport, before speaking to reporters.
The men appeared relaxed in Tallinn, sharing jokes. "My next bike trip will be probably around the house under the watchful eyes of my wife," Paluoja said.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, who had spent the months since the kidnapping shuttling to and from Lebanon, made the round trip with the plane. "I met the Lebanese prime minister and foreign minister during my short stay in Beirut. The investigation is not over, and we will cooperate with Lebanese authorities to find all the criminals involved with the kidnapping," Paet said in Tallinn.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Friday that the seven Estonians were not held hostage at the Taybeh village following their kidnapping in March, but they were released there. He said that the Lebanese will “be informed about the details of the release operation later on… for the safety of the investigation.”
“The security apparatuses have obtained all the necessary information,” Charbel stressed. He noted that the Lebanese security agencies were in a full state of “readiness” and “coordinated with the kidnappers of the Estonians.”
Media reports said that the Estonian government paid the kidnappers of the seven Estonian tourists 10 million Euros to win their release.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said Thursday that no force was used to free the hostages and that several countries and their respective intelligence services were involved in the operation. But when asked whether the Estonian government paid a ransom, Paet referred only to the "costs" involved. "There are always costs involved with such a joint (release) operation," Paet told a news conference in Tallinn, Estonia. He did not elaborate except to say that "the cost was not minor."