I meet him in his “office,” a small room on the ground floor of a crumbling building. Almost every available inch of wall space is lined with guns. As we talk, we’re frequently interrupted by customers who want to buy ammunition or trade in their weapons.
The gun dealer, who we’ll call Hussein, says he and the other Meqdads decided to kidnap a Turk in retaliation for the capture of one of their clan members, Hassan Meqdad, allegedly by the FSA in Syria. He believes the Turkish government is able to pressure the Syrian rebels to release his relative, who remains unaccounted for.
“We went to the airport and said, ‘we want a Turkish guy,’” he explains. “He was a businessman. So we took him. We were trying to make the Turks put pressure on the Syrians so they wouldn’t kidnap Lebanese anymore. It didn’t work because our government took their side.”
Hussein shows me a photograph of the Turkish man they kidnapped. In it, the hostage is smiling broadly, flanked by Meqdads brandishing machine guns.
“We treated him very well,” Hussein says with some pride. “Every day we’d bring him food, cigarettes. We never hit him, not once. You can ask him.”
Hussein and other members of the Meqdad clan were eventually forced to release their Turkish prisoner and even spent some time in jail for their crime. He says that’s because Hezbollah was displeased with their actions, which were damaging to the group’s interests.
“Some of us went to prison,” he says with a shrug. “But the government let us all go, because they knew they were going to feel the consequences if they didn’t. Hezbollah is using their brains…they’ve come this far. It doesn’t make sense that they would go backwards and kidnap people again.”
I ask what he and the Meqdads plan to do now, since Hassan Meqdad remains in Syria and may well have been killed at this point.
“We’re going to wait a little while to see if anything happens with Hassan,” he replies. “If not, we’re going to take somebody very big.”
I inquire whether now might not be the best time to contribute to the general atmosphere of chaos and violence in a country teetering on the brink of war, and he laughs.
“Everything in its own time is good,” he says, quoting a well-known Lebanese proverb.
In Bekaa, I meet with a Sunni man we’ll call Mahmoud, who says he was kidnapped and taken to Syria by people claiming to be FSA fighters and their cohorts in Arsal. We meet in a public park near the town. It’s a beautiful day, and the calm of the park provides an odd setting for Mahmoud’s story.
“We went to Arsal to do some business,” he begins. I interrupt, asking the nature of this transaction. At first, he won’t reveal specifics. When pressed, he says they were selling sheep.
“Our customers there realized we were carrying money,” he continues. “They told us to meet them in a remote area. When we reached the bottom of the mountain, we saw a small shack. Some of the customers were in our car; some were leading in another car…we went into the room, and there were around 20 people there, holding machine guns. They attacked us, tied us up and searched us, then put us in a Jeep and took us to Syria, to a town called Yabroud.”