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LEBANON: Allegedly shady sheik suspected of staging his own kidnapping

January 29, 2010 | 11:58 am

JPEG0482 The mysterious disappearance of an cleric from a village in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley near the border with Syria this week left investigators puzzled and sparked fears of a kidnapping.

The only trace left of Sheik Mohammed Abdel Fatah Majzoub, the Sunni imam in the village of Majdel Anjar, after his disappearance late Tuesday night was his white turban on the ground outside his mosque. 

His white Mercedes was abandoned on the road to Damascus with the engine running.

Majzoub did manage to make a last call to his father from his cellphone, telling him, "Please help."

" 'Dad, I …,’ then I heard a noise and a voice of someone telling him to close his mobile,” Majzoub’s father told the Lebanese English-language newspaper the Daily Star.

But recent developments in the case suggest the sheik might have been shady 

On late Thursday night, security forces located "the lost imam," as Majzoub has been dubbed by some media outlets, at his friend's house in a neighboring village in good health and sporting a different look.

They found a clean-shaven Majzoub sitting among guests in the house dressed in ordinary clothes rather than clerical garb, news reports say.

Suspicions that the sheik had duped the police and staged his own kidnapping soon emerged. 

Future News TV reported that Majzoub had confessed to security forces that he had faked his own kidnapping to escape his financial troubles.

The imam and his friend Kamal Handous, whose house he was found at, are reportedly under arrest, and the two have been transferred to Beirut for questioning. 

Majzoub previously had allegedly been involved in disputes with radical Islamic groups in neighboring villages.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Majzoub is the imam of Majdel Anjar village in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. Credit: Ministry of Tourism, Lebanon

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