PRAGUE — Five Czechs who had been missing in Lebanon since July and were presumed kidnapped have arrived home, but the joyful response has been tempered by revelations that Prague had released two terrorism suspects, apparently as part of a deal to secure their release.
On Thursday, Czech officials freed from detention two men who are wanted by the United States: Ali Taan Fayad, a citizen of Lebanon who is also known as Ali Amin, and Khaled el-Merebi, a citizen of Ivory Coast. The five Czech citizens were freed the same day.
Mr. Fayad and Mr. Merebi — and a second Ivorian, who was not released — were arrested in Prague in 2014 and were accused of terrorism and drug trafficking. American officials said they had tried to sell weapons to undercover American law enforcement agents who had posed as Colombian terrorists. Mr. Fayad left the Czech Republic on Thursday.
“We are dismayed by the Czech government decision to release Ali Fayad and Khaled el-Merebi,” the American Embassy said in a statement. The United States had sought the extradition of all three men to the United States. The embassy said there was “no justification” for releasing the two prisoners, adding, “It will only encourage criminal groups and terrorists all over the world.”
The Czech defense minister, Martin Stropnicky, told the newspaper Hospodarske Noviny that the five Czechs had been released in exchange for a guarantee that Mr. Fayad would not be extradited. Mr. Stropnicky later appeared to backtrack somewhat, however, supporting the Foreign Ministry’s official line that theCzech Republic does not negotiate with terrorist groups.
The foreign minister, Lubomir Zaoralek, has denied that there was an exchange deal, Reuters reported.
After the criticisms from the American Embassy here, the Czech justice minister, Robert Pelikan, said he had spoken with the United States ambassador, Andrew H. Schapiro, and “cleared things up.” He did not provide further details.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the authorities had followed Czech law and that the republic’s allies should respect its decision.
The five Czechs disappeared in July, and their abandoned vehicle was later found in eastern Lebanon. On Monday, the Lebanese authorities announced that the five had been found, and negotiations to secure their return to the Czech Republic soon followed.