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Thu 9 Oct 2008 12:31 AM

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Two Americans go missing in Lebanon

Young journalists last seen Sept. 30, after checking out of hotel in Beirut and heading for Tripoli.

Two young US journalists on holiday have gone missing in Lebanon for the past week after checking out of their hotel, Lebanese security officials told newswire AFP on Wednesday.

"Since Oct. 1, we have lost trace of Taylor Luck and Holli Chmela," one Lebanese official said, requesting anonymity.

The US embassy said the two had not been heard from since they reportedly left Beirut headed for Byblos and Tripoli in northern Lebanon, from where they planned to cross into Syria before returning to Jordan on 4 Oct. when they were due back at work.

The Lebanese official said the pair arrived in Lebanon on Sept. 29 and checked out of their Beirut hotel the following day. Someone withdrew money with Luck's credit card from an ATM machine in Beirut on Oct. 1, he said.

He said the US embassy in Lebanon notified police on Tuesday that Luck, 23, and Chmela, 27, had gone missing. Both have not been reachable on their mobile phones, he added.

"The families... are asking for the public's assistance in providing information on the possible whereabouts of the two US citizens," the embassy said in a statement posted on its website.

"The US embassy is working with the Lebanese Internal Security Force (ISF) and the Surete Generale (security services) to pursue further leads in this investigation.

"In addition, the US embassy in Beirut is coordinating efforts with the US embassies in Amman and Damascus as well as with the Department of State in Washington," it said.

The embassy in Amman released pictures of the pair to help in the search for them. They had been due to go back to work in the Jordanian capital on Saturday.

Nemer Chlela, manager at the Mozart hotel in Beirut's central Hamra district where Luck and Chmela had stayed, said police and embassy officials had questioned staff several times over their disappearance.

"The US embassy has been here three times and the police have been here once," Chlela said.

Reporters at the Jordan Times newspaper told AFP that Luck was a staff member and Chmela, whose Facebook page links her to the New York Times, had just completed an internship there.

The US embassy last month warned its citizens in Lebanon of possible acts of violence against Americans, especially during the first half of October after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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