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'Missing' US journalists in Syrian custody

Two American journalists feared missing for more than a week in Lebanon are in custody in Syria for having entered the country illegally, Damascus said Thursday.

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DAMASCUS - Two Americans reported missing by the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon this week are being questioned in Syria for entering the country illegally, the Syrian foreign ministry said on Thursday.

The Syrian authorities were questioning Holli Chmela, 27, and Taylor Luck, 23, to find out how they entered the country without proper visas, a ministry statement said. "They will be handed over to the American embassy in Damascus after finishing the procedures," it said.

The Americans, who work for the Amman-based Jordan Times newspaper, had entered Syria illegally through the northern border, the statement added.

"The Syrian government has confirmed to our embassy in Damascus that two Americans detained while attempting to cross into Syria are Miss Chmela and Mr. Luck," said State Department spokesman Robert Wood, speaking in Washington.

The U.S. embassy in Beirut had said in a statement on Wednesday there had been no word from the pair since Oct. 1, when they left Beirut for the northern city of Tripoli. They were then to cross by land to Syria before returning to Jordan.

Lebanese media have speculated that they may have fallen victim to kidnappers in the north, where Syria has warned of growing Islamist militancy and the Lebanese army has been the target of two bomb attacks in the last two months.

The U.S. embassy in Beirut last week warned citizens of a security threat in Lebanon in the first half of October, linking the heightened risk to the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

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