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Beloit College grad held for illegally entering Syria

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Associated Press
October 9, 2008
— Syria says it is holding two missing American journalists for illegally crossing the border from Lebanon.

A Foreign Ministry statement says Holli Chmela, 27, and Taylor Luck, 23 were arrested Thursday after they crossed into the country with the help of smugglers.


It says the two will be handed over to the U.S. Embassy following a completion of “necessary measures.”


The U.S. Embassy in Beirut announced Wednesday 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.


An official with the U.S. Embassy in Damascus confirmed two Americans are being held by Syrian authorities and added that the embassy was trying to confirm their identities.


Chmela and Luck, both of suburban Chicago, have been working for the Jordan Times and had been expected back in Amman on Saturday, the Amman-based paper’s chief editor told The Associated Press.


The U.S. Embassy said the two reportedly left Beirut for the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli, a predominantly Sunni Muslim city where militants and Islamic fundamentalists are known to be active. There have been sectarian fighting and bombings in recent months.


Earlier this week, the embassy issued a statement warning its citizens about potential violent actions targeting Americans in Lebanon and calling on them to be more watchful. It said the threats were particularly high in early October.


Chmela and Luck arrived in Lebanon on Sept. 29 from the Jordanian capital of Amman on vacation and told a friend on Oct. 1 that they were traveling from Beirut to Tripoli through the coastal town of Byblos that day, an embassy statement said.


They then planned to cross by land into Syria before returning to Jordan on Saturday, the embassy said.


Luck, of Oak Park, Ill., has been a reporter at the Jordan Times for the past 18 months.


He graduated last year from Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., where he was an international relations major who also studied Arabic and spent a semester in Jordan, said the school’s public affairs director Ron Nief.


Dick Niemiec, interim president of Beloit College, expressed his relief that Luck had been located.


“Along with his family, the entire Beloit College community is relieved at the reports that alumnus Taylor Luck and his traveling companion have been found,” Niemiec said. “We are awaiting confirmation from the Embassy that they are safe but initial indications suggest they are fine. We look forward to reuniting Taylor with the Beloit College campus community in the future and to sharing in his experiences in the Middle East. It will provide an extraordinary learning opportunity for all our students.”


The college awarded Luck a grant to return to Jordan for study, Nief said.


Chmela, whose last U.S. home was in Washington D.C., was an intern at the English-language daily for three months before leaving the job several weeks ago, said Samir Barhoumeh, the paper’s chief editor.


Luck, who speaks Arabic, planned to visit the Syrian city of Aleppo after passing through Lebanon, Barhmoumeh said.


Chmela and Luck left their Beirut hotel Sept. 30 after a one-night stay, the hotel manager said.



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