Two missing Americans detained in Syria
While Syria is beefing up border security to prevent smuggling and the infiltration of Islamic extremists from northern Lebanon to both US and Lebanese dismay, two American journalists turned up in Damascus. Syria states that both "Holli Chmela, 27, and Taylor Luck, 23, were arrested Thursday after they crossed into Syria". The joung journalists have been reported as missing in Lebanon eight days ago.
2008-10-09 16:39:04 - DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - Two Americans who have been missing in Lebanon for eight days have turned up in neighboring Syria, where the Foreign Ministry announced Thursday that they were being questioned for entering the country illegally with the help of smugglers. The Syrian ministry's statement said Holli Chmela, 27, and Taylor Luck, 23, were arrested Thursday after they crossed into Syria. It said the two will be handed over to the U.S. Embassy following a completion of «necessary measures. The two went missing during a vacation in Lebanon and had not been heard from since Oct. 1, when they headed to northern Lebanon en route to Syria, according to an announcement Wednesday by the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. In Washington, the State Department confirmed the two Americans were now in Syria and expressed relief that they were safe. Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the Syrian government confirmed to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus that two Americans detained while attempting to cross into Syria are Chmela and Luck, «the subjects of an extensive search by the U.S. and Lebanese governments. «Our embassies in Beirut and Damascus, in coordination with the State Department, worked actively to pursue all possible leads in our efforts to locate Ms. Chmela and Mr. Luck as soon as they were reported missing,» he said. «We are greatly relieved that the two are safe and are seeking consular access. Earlier, a U.S. Embassy in Damascus official confirmed the Syrian custody of the two, adding the embassy was trying to confirm their identities. The embassy official spoke on condition of anonymity according to embassy regulations and refused to give further details because of rules of preserving privacy. Smugglers are known to be active on the Lebanon-Syria border where they use unpaved mountainous roads to bring goods to both countries. Gangs are also known to smuggle people, mainly workers looking for jobs in Lebanon. Also earlier, Lebanese authorities said they stepped up the search Thursday for the two and were trying to determine whether they had left the country through regular border crossings. A statement issued later by Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud's office said departure records do not show that the two formally left the country. Chmela and Luck arrived in Lebanon on Sept. 29 from the Jordanian capital of Amman on vacation. They told a friend on Oct. 1 that they were traveling from Beirut to Tripoli through the coastal town of Byblos that day, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut had said. From Tripoli they planned to cross by land into Syria, it added. The two had been working for the Jordan Times and were expected back in Amman on Saturday. U.S. Embassy in Beirut earlier this week warned its citizens here about potential violent actions targeting Americans in Lebanon and called on them to be more watchful. It said the threats were particularly high in the first half of October. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it was concerned for the safety of the two. CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney urged the Lebanese «to do all in their power to locate them. Luck, of Oak Park, Illinois, has been a reporter at the Jordan Times for the past 18 months. He graduated last year from Beloit College in Wisconsin as an international relations major but also studied Arabic, said the school's public affairs director Ron Nief. He said the college awarded Luck a grant to return to Jordan for study. Chmela worked as a clerk for The New York Times in Washington before leaving earlier this year to study Arabic in Jordan, according to Times' Bureau Chief Dean Baquet. In a memo to staff about the disappearance, he said she later took an internship with the Jordan Times. She worked as an intern at the English-language daily for three months before leaving the job several weeks ago, the paper's chief editor, Samir Barhoumeh, said.
Associated Press Writer Zeina Karam in Beirut, Lebanon, contributed to this report