U.S. embassy in Lebanon says two Americans missing

BEIRUT Wed Oct 8, 2008 1:08pm EDT

1 of 4. A combination photo of handout photographs released by the U.S. embassy in Beirut October 8, 2008 shows U.S. Citizens Holli Chmela (L) and Taylor Luck.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - The U.S. embassy in Lebanon said on Wednesday that two American citizens were missing and appealed for information on their whereabouts.

The embassy said on its website two Americans -- who are believed to be journalists -- had not been heard from since October 1 when they left Beirut for the northern city of Tripoli, where anti-U.S. Sunni Muslim militant groups are active.

The pair were named as Holli Chmela, 27, and Taylor Luck, 23, by the embassy which said that they told a friend on October 1 they were traveling from Beirut to Tripoli that day. They were planning to cross by land to Syria before returning to Jordan.

They arrived in Lebanon on September 29 from Amman for a vacation and were due back at work in Jordan on October 4.

The embassy said it was working with Lebanon's Internal Security Forces in the investigation as well as coordinating with the U.S. embassies in Damascus and Amman and the State Department.

A Lebanese security source said General Security was investigating whether the two had left Lebanese territory.

The Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper quoted a security source saying that the two were journalists who worked for the Amman-based Jordan Times English newspaper.

WARNING

The U.S. embassy last week warned citizens of a security threat in Lebanon in the first half of October, linking the heightened risk to the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Hale had also raised worries over Islamist militancy in north Lebanon during talks with Lebanese leaders over the weekend.

A U.S. diplomatic car was targeted by a bomb in January in an attack which killed three Beirut residents.

The predominantly Sunni Muslim city of Tripoli has been the scene of several attacks recently. In the last two months, the Lebanese army has been targeted twice by bombs there, in which 14 soldiers and eight civilians were killed.

Syria has also warned of growing Islamist militancy in the north. Syrian authorities have said a vehicle used in a suicide car bomb attack in Damascus had crossed into the country from a neighboring Arab state, though they did not name the country. Syria's Arab neighbors are Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.

Last year the Lebanese army crushed the al Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam group at a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli. At least 430 people were killed, including 170 soldiers and 220 militants, in 15 weeks of fighting that destroyed the camp.

Apart from attacks, Tripoli has also witnessed recent deadly sectarian fighting between Alawites, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, and Sunnis.

Scores of Westerners, including Americans, were held hostage in Lebanon in the 1980s and some were killed. But hostage taking has happened in Lebanon since shortly after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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