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7 Estonian cyclists kidnapped in Lebanon

BEIRUT - Armed men wearing masks kidnapped seven Estonians who were cycling in eastern Lebanon on Wednesday, bundling them into two vans and driving away, a senior police official said Wednesday.

The group, which entered the country from Syria, was abducted near the city of Zahle in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information to the media.

It was not clear whether the kidnappings were politically motivated, like the rash of abductions during Lebanon's bitter civil war. At least 88 foreigners were taken hostage between 1984 and 1990, including 17 Americans, by the various factions during the 1975-90 conflict.

Kidnappings are far less common now, and the area where the group was kidnapped is known for lawlessness, drug trafficking and clan feuds.

The security official said the group went missing in an area near Kfar Zabad, where radical, Syria-backed Palestinian militants have bases. But there was no official confirmation of who had taken the group.

Another senior security official confirmed a group of foreigners was missing Wednesday but no other details were available.

In August, two Polish tourists were kidnapped near the eastern city of Baalbek but Lebanese soldiers quickly freed them. The motive and circumstances surrounding the abduction were unclear.

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