The Soviet Union capitalized on sympathetic attitudes of many factions here and upon a wide range of local and neighboring allies in its successful effort to free three kidnaped embassy officials, according to diplomatic and journalistic accounts.
The officials freed yesterday in west Beirut, after a month's captivity, were attache Oleg Spirine, commercial representative Valery Mirikov and embassy physician Nikolai Svirsky. They were receiving extensive medical checks today preparatory to returning home, embassy officials said.
"Maybe we have more friends here," Soviet Charge d'Affaires Yuri Suslikov, who coordinated local efforts in the search, told Reuter news agency.
By contrast, the United States for months has been seeking the release of six Americans held by the Islamic Jihad group, and a radical Shiite leader said yesterday that there is no hope for their freedom until Kuwait frees 17 extremists held on charges of bombing the U.S. and French embassies there in late 1983.
Hussein Mussawi, leader of the pro-Iranian Islamic Amal, a splinter of the main Amal group, told The Associated Press, "I wish the demands of the kidnapers could be met and all the Americans freed." But, disclaiming involvement in the abductions or in the Shiite fundamentalist Islamic Jihad, he said that group "will not release them until the 17 held prisoner in Kuwait are freed." Their freedom has been Islamic Jihad's key demand.
"The Soviets were up against a junior varsity league in comparison with Islamic Jihad, which had worldwide underground connections and links to a state," Iran, a U.S. Embassy official noted.
The previously unknown Islamic Liberation Organization, a small fundamentalist group believed to include Sunni extremists, claimed responsibility for abducting the Soviet officials on Sept. 30 and demanded a halt to attacks by leftist militias on Sunni fundamentalists in the northern city of Tripoli. The body of a fourth Soviet captive, consular officer Arkady Katkov, was found two days later.
Although Soviet Embassy officials and leftist and Moslem militiamen remained tight-lipped today about who had held the Soviets, it was apparent that the identity of the kidnapers and their location had been determined after an intensive search involving local militias as well as Syrian and even Iranian assistance.
The leftist newspaper As Safir quoted sources close to the Soviet Embassy as saying that the group or groups detaining the Soviets were known and that they had no choice but to give in and have the crisis solved "peacefully." The Druze Progressive Socialist Party, which enjoys solid ties with Moscow, and the Shiite Amal movement combed various Moslem neighborhoods suspected of harboring the captors. A special security force including Palestinian fighters searched refugee camps in later stages of the probe.
Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon, Ghazi Kanaan, supervised an intensified search during the past three days, while a Soviet delegation headed by the deputy chairman for foreign relations of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee arrived in Damascus, Syria, Monday.
Political sources in Beirut said Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat conferred with Soviet diplomats for nine hours in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday, and there are suggestions that Arafat may have given the Soviets a key tip.
As Safir quoted its sources as saying that a person linked to the group holding the Soviets was detained and interrogated. The sources added that Soviet leaders had established secret contacts with "Arab quarters assumed to have influence on the Lebanese scene."
Iranian involvement came with the dispatch of a close aide of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for talks in Tripoli on Oct. 16 with the city's pro-Iranian Sunni Moslem leader, Sheik Said Shabaan, and in Sidon with another key Sunni figure, before he reportedly traveled to Damascus to meet with the head of Syrian intelligence, Rifaat Assad.
A front-page editorial in the pro-Syrian Ash Sharq newspaper today compared yesterday's celebrations with the indifference of west Beirut when the U.S. hostages of the hijacked Trans World Airlines plane were freed June 30, saying, "It appears that the Americans are insisting on threats, while Soviets know how to use the key of friendship."