Body of journalist Alec Collett found in Lebanon

By Josie Ensor, Beirut, November 24, 2009
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Alec Collett

Alec Collett

The body of British journalist Alec Collett who was executed by Palestinian militants has been found this week in Lebanon after a 24-year hunt.

The search for the 64-year-old’s remains, organised by the British embassy in Lebanon, began last week in the eastern region of Bekaa after the excavation team received a tip-off.

Both the British Foreign Office and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) confirmed the DNA results Monday.

Collett, who was on an United Nations assignment covering refugee camps in Lebanon, was kidnapped at gun-point by a Palestinian terrorist group known as Abu Nidal during the height of Lebanon’s civil war in 1985.

The team of Metropolitan counterterrorism police and two forensic archaeologists found the bones at a site formerly used as a military base by the group near the border with Syria.

The UN gave their condolences in a statement released by Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s spokeswoman. "He is grateful for the work done by the Department of Safety and Security in helping to determine what happened to Mr Collett.

“Although he is saddened by Alec Collett's death, he hopes that the actions taken to find his remains can provide a measure of comfort to his loved ones," the statement said.

Private arrangements are being made to fly the body back to his family, according to Britain’s Foreign Office, who said they were “pleased to have closure after so long.”

Abu Nidal's leader, Sabri al-Banna, had reportedly thought that hostage Collett could be swapped for three members jailed in Britain after the attempted assassination in 1982 of Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador to London.

One year after he went missing and with no exchange made, the captors killed Collett and released a grainy video showing a hooded figure that appeared to have been hanged, though no positive identification could be made.

Collett was one of at least 88 foreigners to be kidnapped in Lebanon between 1984 and 1991. Fourteen of which were British nationals, including television reporter John McCarthy.

Until this week, the United Nations had tried four times in vain to find the body of the missing Briton.

They expressed relief the body had finally been unearthed this week and that their searches had paid off. "The secretary-general appreciates the role played by the relevant authorities in the United Kingdom and in Lebanon to resolve this matter after so many years.”

    Last updated: 10:49am, November 24 2009