Syria said tonight that its security forces had rescued abducted French teacher Michel Brian after a dramatic shootout with his kidnapers earlier today in Lebanon's Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley.
Brian, unharmed, was escorted by Syrian troops to Damascus, where Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Charaa handed him over to French Ambassador Alain Grenier, United Press International reported.
Shortly after Brian was freed, an Irish teacher at the American University here, Brian Keenan, 36, was seized by gunmen in west Beirut, and colleagues said they feared he had been kidnaped.
A Syrian statement said Brian was freed by Syrian security men who chased a vehicle after they heard that a hostage was being moved. The Syrian account of Brian's rescue followed a report by The Asociated Press that Brian escaped unharmed when Lebanese rabbit hunters clashed with his captors on the outskirts of the ancient town of Baalbeck, about 10 miles from the Syrian border.
Brian's captors apparently were moving him when the three hunters came across a parked car at about 2:30 a.m. in scrubland near their village, AP said. Brian's kidnapers fired on the clansmen, who cast aside their hunting guns and blazed away in return with AK47 assault rifles, standard equipment for men who venture out in the Bekaa.
The news agency said the kidnapers fled, leaving Brian blindfolded and bound. Brian was subsequently turned over to Syrian security authorities, AP said.
"I was very lucky," the news agency quoted Brian as saying. "The kidnapers drove away, leaving me after the shooting. I didn't know what was happening. I was in the ditch. Then these three men came up and took off the blindfold and released my hands," Brian reportedly said.
He added that the hunters told him them they had been hunting rabbits. "I said, 'You've got yourself a big rabbit, then.'"
Brian, 42, who teaches French at the College Protestant Francais, was kidnaped in Moslem-controlled west Beirut Tuesday evening. West Beirut has been plagued by a rash of abductions of foreigners.
In Paris, the French government today granted early release to a pro-Palestinian militant jailed in a series of terrorist attacks against Jewish targets there, United Press International reported.
The government, stymied in attempts to gain the freedom of several French hostages in Lebanon, gave no reason for the release.