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Saudi businessman kidnapped by Lebanese gang in Bekaa Valley: Reports

The valley has long been associated with tribal fighting, drug smuggling and hashish production
Lebanese army soldiers patrol the area of Tayouneh in the southern suburb of the capital Beirut, on 14 October 2021

Lebanese authorities are investigating the alleged kidnapping of a Saudi businessman in the Bekaa Valley region of eastern Lebanon, according to local media.

Hussein al-Shammari was allegedly lured to the region to buy property, a judicial official said. A ransom demand has not been issued but the man was likely kidnapped "with the aim of financially extorting" him, the official said.

The Bekaa public prosecutor instructed security forces to "conduct investigations and gather information on his whereabouts, which is likely the Al-Sharawneh neighbourhood" on the outskirts of the city of Baalbek, an official told the AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Bekaa Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold, is the heart of Lebanon's farmland and has been associated with lawlessness, competing tribes and hashish production. The region is a well-known route for smuggling into neighbouring Syria.

In April, a gang kidnapped an Egyptian accountant in Baalbek. He was rescued by the army after two weeks in captivity.

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On 11 July, a Saudi Arabian dissident living in Beirut's southern suburbs was killed, and two of his brothers were arrested in connection with the murder.

The latest kidnapping comes three months after Riyadh announced the return of its ambassador to Beirut, following a diplomatic crisis last year between Lebanon and Arab states in the Gulf.

Riyadh also suspended fruit and vegetable imports from Lebanon in April last year, saying shipments were being used for Captagon smuggling and accusing Beirut of inaction.

Captagon is an amphetamine and its production has flourished in Syria, where the government of Bashar al-Assad is known to play a key role in the trade. Regions bordering Syria, like the Bekaa valley, have emerged as key transit routes for the drug.

Lebanon is currently grappling with a severe economic crisis that has plunged three-quarters of the population into poverty, according to the United Nations.

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