February 3, 2016 / 12:29 PM / in 2 years

Czech foreign minister expects five found in Lebanon to fly home by Thursday

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Five Czechs found in Lebanon on Monday following their suspected kidnapping last July may be flown back to Prague on a government plane by Thursday, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said on Wednesday.

The five went missing when their abandoned vehicle was found near Kefraya in eastern Lebanon. They reappeared on Monday and are being held by Lebanese authorities.

“We should be able to negotiate through our ambassador that the detained Czech citizens are released to us and we could despatch them home. It could hopefully happen during today or tomorrow,” Zaoralek told reporters.

The disappearance of the five, treated by Czech authorities as a suspected kidnapping, has been connected -- by media in both countries and a security source -- with the detention since 2014 of a Lebanese national in the Czech Republic.

A Czech court has ruled that three men including Lebanese citizen Ali Fayad, charged in the United States with an attempt to sell ground-to-air missiles, cocaine trafficking and other crimes, can be extradited to the United States.

The United States, the Czechs’ ally in NATO, has accused Fayad of trying to sell arms and drugs to the Colombian guerrilla group FARC. A final ruling on the extradition is up to the Czech justice minister. The U.S. embassy in Prague had no comment.

One of the missing Czechs was an attorney to Fayad, and his brother, who also went missing, was the driver of their car.

“A letter was sent saying that the five would be released when Ali Fayad was released – he was an adviser to the Ukrainian defense minister,” a Lebanese security source told Reuters.

Zaoralek refused to comment on Fayad, and said it remained government policy not to make deals with kidnappers.

A Czech legal firm representing Fayad has in the past denied any connection between he two cases.

Fayad’s lawyer said he visited his client on Tuesday afternoon in a Prague jail and has had no information about any ruling or his extradition or release.

A spokeswoman for the Czech justice ministry said no ruling has been made on Fayad’s extradition and she expected no decision in the coming days.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller in Prague and Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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