Seven Estonian cyclists released in Lebanon


Seven Estonian cyclists who were kidnapped in March make their first public appearance on the balcony of the French embassy in Beirut on July 14, 2011 hours after they were freed in the eastern Bekaa Valley.



Seven Estonians were on Thursday freed in Lebanon — almost four months after being abducted by armed men when they crossed the border on a bicycle tour from Syria.

Estonian authorities confirmed the cyclists were released in the town of Sahel al-Taybi in the eastern Bekaa Valley, and had been taken to the French embassy in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

Estonia does not have diplomatic representation in Lebanon, and French diplomats are understood to have played a part in securing the men's release.

A Beirut police official told Agence France Presse that the men, aged in their 30s and 40s, were in good health. He said they would receive a medical examination at the embassy.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry said in a statement:

We have taken the freed compatriots to the French embassy in Beirut. Their health condition is good.

The BBC reported that an unknown group called Haraket Al-Nahda Wal-Islah, or Movement for Renewal and Reform, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

Three videos of the hostages were released, and a ransom was demanded — but it is unknown whether any money was paid.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, who is expected to fly to Lebanon to meet the cyclists, said his priority was to get the men “home to their families and loved ones as quickly as possible”.

The cyclists were abducted from eastern Lebanon on March 23.