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7 Estonians abducted in Lebanon released

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BEIRUT (AP) — Seven Estonian tourists abducted nearly four months ago while cycling through Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley have been released in good health, officials said Thursday.

The seven cyclists were released in the Bekaa Valley and brought to the French Embassy in Beirut, where they will undergo a medical checkup before returning home Friday morning at the latest.

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said no ransom was paid and three people were under arrest.

There were no further details on the circumstances of the release.

"It was a long preparation by many sides, but unfortunately right now I can’t share the details," Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told The Associated Press before heading to Beirut to escort them former hostages home.

A previously unheard-of group called Harakat al-Nahda wal-Islah, or the Movement for Renewal and Reform, had claimed responsibility for the March 23 abduction and demanded an unspecified ransom. But it was not clear whether the kidnappings were politically motivated, like the wave of abductions during Lebanon’s civil war.

A Lebanese security official told AP the seven were released in Taybeh village, about one kilometer (mile) south of Baalbek, and that French Embassy officials were on hand to receive them.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

On April 11, a police intelligence officer and a main suspect in the kidnapping were killed in a shootout in the border village of Majdal Anjar, known for sheltering Sunni fundamentalist fugitives, police said at the time.

An online video posted in mid-April showed the seven Estonians asking Lebanese, Saudi, Jordanian and French leaders to help secure their release.

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AP writer Gary Peach contributed to this report from Riga, Latvia.

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Zeina Karam can be reached on http://twitter.com/zkaram

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