Lebanon hostage crisis

This article is about the kidnappings in Lebanon between 1982 and 1992. For the kidnapping of seven Estonian tourists in 2011, see 2011 Estonian cyclists abduction.

The Lebanon hostage crisis refers to the kidnapping in Lebanon of 104 foreign hostages between 1982 and 1992, when the Lebanese Civil War was "at its height".[1] The hostages were mostly Americans and Western Europeans, but 21 national origins were represented. At least eight hostages died in captivity; some were murdered, while others died from lack of adequate medical attention to illnesses.[2]

Those taking responsibility for the kidnapping used different names, but the testimony of former hostages indicates that almost all the kidnappings were done by a single group of about a dozen men, coming from various clans within the Hezbollah organization.[3] Particularly important in the organization was Imad Mughniyah.[4] Hezbollah has publicly denied involvement.[5] The Islamic Republic of Iran is thought to have played a major role in the kidnappings,[6] and may have instigated them.[7] Syria also had some involvement.

The original motive for the hostage-taking is thought to have been to discourage retaliation by the U.S., Syria, or other powers against Hezbollah, which is credited with the killing of 241 Americans and 58 Frenchmen in the Marine barracks and embassy bombings in Beirut.[8][9] Other explanations for the kidnappings or the prolonged holding of hostages are Iranian foreign policy interests, including a desire to extract concessions from the Western countries, the hostage takers being strong allies of the Islamic Republic of Iran.[10]

The tight security measures taken by the hostage-keepers succeeded in preventing the rescue of all but a handful of hostages,[11] and this along with public pressure from the media and families of the hostages led to a breakdown of the anti-terrorism principle of "no negotiations, no concessions" by American and French officials. In the United States, the Reagan administration negotiated a secret and illegal arms for hostage swap with Iran known as the Iran–Contra affair.

The end of the crisis in 1992 is thought to have been precipitated by the need for Western aid and investment by Syria and Iran following the end of the Iran–Iraq war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with promises to Hezbollah that it could remain armed following the end of the Lebanese Civil War and that France and America would not seek revenge against it.[12]


25 victims were Americans, 16 were Frenchmen, 12 Britons, 7 Swiss, and 7 West Germans.[13][14] Among the names the hostage takers used were Islamic Jihad, Organization for the Defense of Free People, Organization for the Oppressed of the Earth and Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine.


With the exception of a few hostages such as CIA Bureau Chief William Francis Buckley and Marine Colonel William Higgins, (who were both killed) most of the hostages were chosen not for any political activity or alleged wrongdoing, but because of the country they came from and the ease of kidnapping them. Despite this, the hostages complained of and had physical signs of mistreatment, such as repeated beatings and mock executions.[15]

Some of the victims include:

Terry Waite


William R. Higgins, USMC

Escaped or rescued


Hezbollah, sometimes described as the "umbrella group" of Shia radicalism in Lebanon, is considered by most observers to be the instigator of the crisis.

Analysis of the hostage-crisis in Lebanon yields that Hezbollah was undisputably responsible for the aforementioned abductions of Westerners despite attempts to shield its complicity through the employment of cover-names. Its organisational framework was not only sophisticated and assimilated according to Iranian clerical designs but also closely integrated with several key Iranian institutions which provided it with both necessary weaponry and training to successfully confront self-proclaimed Islamic enemies and invaluable financial support ...[6]

Hezbollah itself, denies the charge, proclaiming in 1987:

We look with ridicule at the accusations of Hezbollah in connection with the abductions of foreign hostages. We consider that is a provocation and hold America responsible for the results.[40]

Another source claims that with the exceptions of six Iranian hostages, all the hostages appear to have been seized by groups allied with Iran.[41]

Imad Mugniyah

The two main operatives of the hostage taking were reported to be Imad Mughniyah, a senior member of the Hezbollah organization, who was described by journalist Robin Wright as the "master terrorist" behind the campaign.,[4] and Husayn Al-Musawi (also spelled Hussayn al-Mussawi). The village of Ras al-Ein, in the Beqaa Valley of East Lebanon was a place were the victims were held.[26]


According to scholar Gilles Kepel "a few of the kidnappings were money-driven or linked to local concerns, but most obeyed a logic whereby Hezbollah itself was no more than a subcontractor for Iranian initiatives".[42] Motivation for the hostage-taking includes:

If you are interested in having your people [who are] held hostage in Lebanon released, then tell the Phalangists [Christian militia] to release our people who have been in their hands for years.[43]
The Iranians included Ahmad Motevaselian, the Ba'albek commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard contingent, and Mohsen Musavi, the Iranian charge d'affairs to Lebanon.[44] (The other two Iranians were Akhaven Kazem and Taqi Rastegar Moqaddam.)
The hostage in captivity the longest, Terry Anderson, was told that he and the other hostages had been abducted to gain the freedom of their seventeen comrades in Kuwait convicted of perpetrating the 1983 Kuwait Bombing of six key foreign and Kuwaiti installations, "what might have been the worst terrorist attack of the century had the bombs' rigging not been faulty".[47]
On 18 July 1980, Naccache was arrested for the attempt to kill Bakhtiar. A police officer and a bystander were killed in the subsequent battle with the police. Naccache and three others were given life sentences. ... Naccache's release later became a condition for freeing the Western hostages in Lebanon.[50]
Naccache was freed" on 27 July 1990, together with four accomplices, after being pardoned by President François Mitterrand. All five men were put on a plane bound for Tehran. The deal also brought political, military and financial benefits to Iran itself: the release of its frozen assets and desperately needed spare parts for their armaments. The French also kicked out most of the Iranian opposition leaders who had taken sanctuary in their country following the revolution."
three French hostages in Lebanon, Jean-Pierre Kaufmann, Marcel Carton et Marcel Fontaine, had been released by kidnappers on May 4, 1988. France denied reports that the release of Anis Naccache was a retribution for the release of these three hostages .[50]


By 1991 radical Shia operatives imprisoned in Europe had been freed. Islamic Dawa Party members convicted of terrorism in Kuwait had been freed by the Iraqi invasion. There was no need to pressure Western supporters of the Iraq because Iran–Iraq War was over. It was pretty well established that the four missing Iranians were no longer alive.[51]

More importantly Iran was in need of foreign investment "to repair its economy and infrastructure" after the destruction of the Iran–Iraq War, and Syria needed to "consolidation of its hegemony over Lebanon" and obtain to Western aid to compensate for the loss of Soviet support following the collapse of the Soviet Union.[12] Syria was actively pressuring Hezbollah to stop the abductions and a February 1987 attack by Syrian troops in Beirut that killed 23 members of Hezbollah was in part an expression of Syrian irritation with the continued hostage-taking.[52] Hezbollah had guarantees from Syria that despite the end of the Lebanese Civil War, it would be allowed to remain armed, while all other Lebanese militias would be disarmed, on the grounds that Hezbollah needed its weapons to fight Israeli occupation in the South.[53]

This combination of factors created a setting whereby UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar and his personal envoy, Giandomenico Picco (served on the Board of Governmental Relations for the American Iranian Council), could negotiate "a comprehensive resolution to the hostage-crisis". By December 1991, Hezbollah had released the last hostage in return for Israel's release of imprisoned Shi'ites.[54]


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Mentions in popular culture

See also


  1. "Remains of French hostage found near Beirut". New York Times. March 6, 2006. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  2. Jaber, Hala. Hezbollah: Born with a Vengeance, New York : Columbia University Press, c1997, p.113
  3. Los Angeles Times, 26 November 1989; Independent, 9 October 1991; and Le Figaro, 4 December 1989
  4. 1 2 Wright, Robin, Sacred Rage, 2001, p.270
  5. "Talks in Iran Seek to Free Hostages", New York Times, March 17, 1991, p.18
  6. 1 2 Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997) p.108
  7. Frontline. Interview. Robert Baer
  8. Rise to Globalism by Stephen Ambrose, page 312
  9. 1 2 Explained by PLO's Salah Khalef, in Washington Post, 21 February 1987
  10. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah (1997), p.54
  11. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah (1997) p.147
  12. 1 2 Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.125
  13. source: Maskit Burgin, "Foreign Hostages in Lebanon" in Ariel Merai and Anat Kurz, International Terrorism in 1987 (Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1988), p.70
  14. Hala Jaber, a journalist for British newspapers estimates at least 87 foreigners were kidnapped, including 17 Americans, 14 Britons, 15 French, 7 Swiss, and 7 West Germans. (Jaber, Hala. Hezbollah: Born with a Vengeance, New York: Columbia University Press, c1997, p.113)
  15. "Terry Anderson Looks Back, Blindfold and Chains" New York Times, March 15, 1992, p.10
  16. 1 2 Jaber, Hala. Hezbollah: Born with a Vengeance, New York: Columbia University Press, c1997, p.100
  17. Hostage: Complete Story of the Lebanon Captives by Con Coughlin, Time Warner, pp.36
  18. Wright, Robin, Sacred Rage, Simon and Schuster, 2001, p.101–104
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 Lebanon, the hostage crisis
  20. Justice Will Be Done
  21. "West German Hostage Freed in Lebanon". Los Angeles Times. September 8, 1987.
  22. "West German Hostage Is Released in Lebanon". The New York Times. September 13, 1988.
  23. "Those who remain in captivity; John McCarthy release", The Times, 9 August 1991
  24. 1 2 Church envoy Waite freed in Beirut from bbc.co.uk
  25. 1 2 Galenet Biography Resource Center
  26. 1 2 In The Party Of God (Part I)
  27. "5 Months Earlier Than Lebanon Captors Said: Buckley Died in June, 1985, Jacobsen Thinks". Los Angeles Times. December 3, 1986.
  28. US Security Council, "U.S./Iranian Contacts and the American Hostages" -"Maximum Version" of NSC Chronology of Events, dated November 17, 1986, 2000 Hours - Top Secret, Chronology, November 17, 1986, 12 pp. (UNCLASSIFIED)
  29. Gup, Ted. The Book of Honor, New York: Doubleday, 2000, p. 286.
  30. Remains of missing U.N. worker found after 24 years
  31. "KGB Reportedly Gave Arab Terrorists a Taste of Brutality to Free Diplomats". The Guardian to Los Angeles Times. January 7, 1986.
  32. "Lebanon returns hostage's remains". BBC News. March 7, 2006.
  33. Jaber, Hala. Hezbollah: Born with a Vengeance, New York : Columbia University Press, c1997, p.126
  34. via the Gainesville Sun on May 30, 1985.
  35. "British teacher found shot to death in Beirut". The Courier. May 29, 1985.
  36. "Send photo of victim". The Press-Courier. June 3, 1985.
  37. Wright, Robin, Sacred Rage, Simon and Schuster, 2001, p.102, 4
  38. Salameh, Rima (September 26, 1986). "British reporter evades kidnapping in Moslem Beirut". Gainesville Sun. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  39. Wright, Robin, Sacred Rage, Simon and Schuster, 2001, p.102
  40. 1 2 3 Reuters (3 February 1987). "Militia Leaders Report "Arrest" of Waite". New York Times.
  41. Maskit Burgin, "Foreign Hostages in Lebanon" in Anat Kurz, Ariel Merari, International Terrorism in 1987 (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988), 70.
  42. Kepel, Jihad (2002), p.129
  43. Jaber, Hala. Hezbollah : born with a vengeance, New York : Columbia University Press, c1997, p.100
  44. Middle East Reporter, 22 July 1983, 14 November 1990
  45. Jaber, Hala. Hezbollah: Born with a Vengeance, New York: Columbia University Press, 1997, p.101
  46. Bombs, Hostages: A Family Link, Washington Post, 24 July 1990.
  47. Jaber, Hala. Hezbollah: Born with a Vengeance, New York: Columbia University Press, 1997, p.127–9
  48. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p. 91
  49. 1 2 3 4 Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.95
  50. 1 2 Jaber, Hala. Hezbollah: born with a vengeance, New York: Columbia University Press, c1997, p.127
  51. "Hostages Fate Linked to Four Missing Iranians", New York Times, November 23, 1990, p. A11
  52. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997) p.100
  53. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.191
  54. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.167
  55. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon (1997), p.88–89
  56. Middle East Reporter 22 July 1983
  57. 1 2 3 4 Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.92
  58. "Britain Asks Lebanon To Look for Journalist". The New York Times. September 4, 1984. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  59. Jerusalem Post, 8 January 1985
  60. E. Buchler, Terrorismus in de Schweiz: Waffen- und Sprengstoffbeschaffung fur den Internationalen Terrorismus?` Semiarabeit MSII/86, Zurich 1986: p.24-5
  61. 1 2 3 Ranstorp,, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.94
  62. Liberation, 5 June 1985
  63. Le Matin, 29 January 1987
  64. Haaretz, 30 January 1987
  65. Ma'aretz, 8 May 1988
  66. New York Times January 1987
  67. Ranstorp,, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.119
  68. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.96
  69. Wall Street Journal, 21 May 1987
  70. Kayhan, 12 March 1983
  71. Ettela'at, 23 August 1983
  72. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.116-7
  73. New York Times, March 19, 1987. A9
  74. 1 2 3 4 Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.98
  75. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.97
  76. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.98-9
  77. 1 2 The Iran-Contra Time Line
  78. 1 2 Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.162
  79. 1 2 3 4 Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.99
  80. New York Times, January 25, 1987, March 19, 1987. A9, September 28, 1988. A9
  81. New York Times, March 19, 1987. A9, September 28, 1988. A9
  82. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.102
  83. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah, (1997), p.100
  84. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah, (1997), p.124
  85. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah, (1997), p.144
  86. Ranstorp,, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.146
  87. "Briton in Lebanon Reported Dead", New York Times, September 9, 1989, p.2
  88. Ranstorp,, Hizb'allah in Lebanon, (1997), p.103
  89. 1 2 Tuohy, William (May 1, 1990). "2nd U.S. Hostage Freed in Beirut". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 9, 2016.
  90. "1990: Irish hostage released in Lebanon". BBC News. August 24, 1990.
  91. Hedges, Chris (August 12, 1991). "The Hostage Drama: Freed U.S. Hostage Emerges A Frail and Disoriented Man". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2016.
  92. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah, (1997), p.105
  93. Ranstorp, Hizb'allah, (1997), p.107
  94. "Two German Hostages are Freed in Beirut and Fly Home", New York Times, June 16, 1992


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