Waite Is Kidnapped in Lebanon Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

While in Beirut to seek the release of four Western hostages, Terry Waite, the envoy of the archbishop of Canterbury, was kidnapped by the terrorist group Islamic Jihad. He was held in close quarters until November, 1991, when he was released with three of the other hostages.

Summary of Event

During the twentieth century, Middle Eastern affairs became increasingly complex, not only with the long-standing Israel-Palestine issue, but also with the rise of militant Islam, especially that of the Shiite branch, which has its center in Iran. Much of this complexity has been played out in the small country of Lebanon, which historically has had a mixed Christian-Muslim population and political system. Kidnappings;Terry Waite[Waite] Terrorist acts Islamic Jihad [kw]Waite Is Kidnapped in Lebanon (Jan. 20, 1987) [kw]Kidnapped in Lebanon, Waite Is (Jan. 20, 1987) [kw]Lebanon, Waite Is Kidnapped in (Jan. 20, 1987) Kidnappings;Terry Waite[Waite] Terrorist acts Islamic Jihad [g]Middle East;Jan. 20, 1987: Waite Is Kidnapped in Lebanon[06390] [g]Lebanon;Jan. 20, 1987: Waite Is Kidnapped in Lebanon[06390] [c]Terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes;Jan. 20, 1987: Waite Is Kidnapped in Lebanon[06390] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Jan. 20, 1987: Waite Is Kidnapped in Lebanon[06390] Waite, Terry Runcie, Robert North, Oliver McCarthy, John Anderson, Terry A. Habiby, Samir

In 1975, a civil war began in Lebanon as the historic balance of power broke down. Large numbers of Palestinian refugees had spawned terrorist groups dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Their activities incurred Israel’s wrath, and in 1982 Israel invaded southern Lebanon, as far as its capital, Beirut. The southern suburbs of the city were headquarters to some of the most militant groups, which were loosely working together under the name Islamic Jihad. In addition to the Palestinians, the group included poor Shiites who had been radicalized by the Iranian Revolution. They, too, sought the overthrow of Israel in particular and the United States and the West in general. The terrorist group that sprang from this was known as Hezbollah Hezbollah (party of God). It was generally managed by Iran, operating out of its embassy in Damascus, Syria.

In 1983, an Israeli withdrawal was brokered through the United Nations, and U.S. troops became involved in monitoring a cease-fire. However, Hezbollah launched a suicide raid against them and killed hundreds. Encouraged by this and the withdrawal of the U.S. military, the various terrorist groups began a series of kidnappings of Westerners working in the country. Kidnappings and hijackings were endemic to the area, but this appeared to have been the start of a new campaign.

In June, 1984, an American Presbyterian minister, Benjamin Weir, Weir, Benjamin was kidnapped. The group responsible wanted to exchange him for seventeen terrorists held in Kuwait for several bombings. Some of the detained terrorists, notably Imad Mugniyah, Mugniyah, Imad were from families of Hezbollah leaders. It was thought that Mugniyah had planned the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks and also the 1984 kidnapping of the Central Intelligence Agency station chief, William F. Buckley. Buckley, William F. The Kuwaiti authorities proved intractable, however.

The next year, more Americans were kidnapped, including Terry A. Anderson, an Associated Press reporter; Thomas Sutherland, Sutherland, Thomas dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut; and Father Lawrence Jenco, Jenco, Lawrence a Roman Catholic priest. A British journalist, Alec Collett, Collett, Alec was also kidnapped, as were several French. In 1986, more hostages were taken, including John McCarthy, a British television reporter. The capture of two clergymen then involved the U.S. Presbyterian Church. Representatives of the Presbyterian Church approached the Church of England, especially one of the archbishop of Canterbury’s staff, Terry Waite. They believed an approach to Syria would help.

Terry Waite had had several successes in freeing hostages, first in Iran in 1980, shortly after the Iranian Revolution, and then in Libya in 1983, with Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi. In the Iranian situation, the hostages had been British missionaries; in the Libyan affair, they had been British businessmen. It was therefore a widening of his mission to include Americans, and the archbishop soon agreed to Waite’s becoming involved.

Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite speaks to reporters upon his arrival in Beirut on January 12, 1987, to negotiate with Islamic Jihad over the release of foreign hostages held in Lebanon. He himself was kidnapped eight days later and was held captive for 1,763 days.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

At the same time, and quite unknown to the church groups, the U.S. government was seeking some rapprochement with the Iranians, who needed arms to fight their war against Iraq. Covert operations of dealing arms through Israel were put in motion, particularly through Colonel Oliver North. Some quick successes were recorded: Weir was allowed to go free, and conditions for the other hostages improved. This was vital, as Buckley and Collett had already died. Although Waite had had little to do with Weir’s release, he was allowed to take credit for it, and this encouraged him to work for the remaining hostages. His efforts included frequent trips to the United States, where he liaised with a Palestinian-born Episcopal priest, Samir Habiby, and with Oliver North—representing, as it appeared at the time, the U.S. government. Later, it turned out that North and his immediate superior were often working at odds with official American policy. It also meant that Waite’s previous strength, as an independent clergyman, was being compromised, at least in the eyes of the paranoid terrorist groups, though Waite strenuously denied this.

Waite’s efforts for the remainder of 1985 and the first part of 1986 appeared to be producing few results. Then, in July, 1986, Jenco was freed and handed over to the Syrians. Again, Waite was given much credit for this. He was achieving celebrity status in the United Kingdom and the United States. Although the Iran-Contra affair, Iran-Contra scandal[Iran Contra scandal] involving North, was breaking, Waite thought it had little to do with him, and so he continued efforts, despite warnings. Several trips to Beirut later in the year yielded little progress.

On January 12, 1987, he returned to Beirut with little to offer but hoping to meet the hostages. He went under the protection of one of the factions that was not directly involved. He was ready to leave empty-handed, when a promise of a meeting came through. Despite his protectors’ doubts, he left them behind to go to an assigned meeting place on January 20 but found himself kidnapped by an unknown group, who later turned out to be Islamic Jihad. That began his 1,763 days in captivity.


Waite undoubtedly had real success in his earlier efforts to free hostages. He became the public face of the honest broker, a clergyman prepared to play high stakes in the name of religion. When the North scandal broke, his credibility was broken in the eyes of the kidnappers, and he became fair game himself. He was not well treated, being held in isolation for three years and chained to a wall. He managed to sustain himself physically and mentally for that time, reading what he could and planning a book. Efforts to gain his release proved unsuccessful. His whereabouts were never discovered.

After three years, his health began to fail seriously, mainly because of asthma. He was then moved in with three of the other hostages. The Iran-Iraq War had ended long before, and Iraq in 1990 invaded Kuwait, thus freeing the prisoners that were still at the heart of the kidnappers’ demands. With the demise of the Soviet Union, Iran and Syria both wanted more access to the West, and suddenly the hostages had lost their value. The French hostages had been released through deals with their government, but the British and U.S. governments, lacking any coherent policy, had refused such deals. Thus, the release of their hostages took longer but eventually occurred.

Waite was released to a hero’s welcome on November 17, 1991. He paid tribute to the many who had prayed for him, epitomized by the sole piece of mail he had received—a postcard depicting seventeenth century writer and preacher John Bunyan in jail, with the words that he was not forgotten. The kidnappers themselves seemed to have become convinced that in the long run, they had achieved little by their policy. Lebanon was promised a new start. Waite had to make a new start for himself, too, along with the other hostages. Most of the hostages, including Waite, wrote books about their experiences. Kidnappings;Terry Waite[Waite] Terrorist acts Islamic Jihad

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Emerson, Steven. Secret Warriors: Inside the Covert Military Operations of the Reagan Era. New York: Putnam, 1988. Puts the Oliver North dealings in their full context and helps show to what extent Waite was used as a cover.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hewitt, Gavin. Terry Waite: Why Was He Kidnapped? London: Bloomsbury, 1991. Hewitt is a respected television journalist who covered Terry Waite’s efforts to free other hostages, as well as efforts to free Waite. He links Waite’s kidnapping with his involvement with Oliver North and the U.S. government.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ranstorp, Magnus. Hizb’allah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997. Reviews the policies of both Hezbollah and the Western governments during the hostage crises of 1982-1992 and finds the Western governments lacking any coherent strategy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Waite, Terry. Footfalls in Memory: Reflections from Solitude. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Extended version of Waite’s inner journey during his years of captivity.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Taken on Trust. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1993. Waite’s own account of his kidnapping and subsequent detention, interspersed with his memoirs and thoughts. It is largely the book he mentally planned while in captivity.

Israel Invades Southern Lebanon

Iranian Revolutionaries Hold Americans Hostage

Pro-Iran Radicals Form Hezbollah

Iran-Contra Scandal

Terrorists Attack Israeli Embassy and Jewish Center in Argentina

Categories: History