Turkish citizens in Lebanon threatened by families of abducted pilgrims
The families of the Aazaz hostages on Monday threatened to kidnap “any Turkish national on Beirut's streets,” after the Internal Security Forces' Intelligence Bureau failed to release Mohammed Saleh, a relative of one of the abductees who has been arrested over alleged ties to the kidnappers of two Turkish pilots.
The warning comes after the families held a meeting with caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel at his office over the arrest of Saleh and the ongoing negotiations in the case of the abducted pilgrims.
“Charbel said Mohammed Saleh is innocent and that he was held on suspicions but he has not been released until the moment and any Turkish national on Beirut's streets will be kidnapped,” Hayat Awali, a spokeswoman for the families, said in an interview with al-Jadeed television.
“Any Turkish national on Beirut's streets is a target for us,” she added.
Earlier on Monday, Charbel briefed the families on the latest developments related to the ongoing negotiations, state-run National News Agency reported.
“We will let the security agencies do their routine procedures but Mohammed Saleh will be released because the phone call he made was for congratulations,” Daniel Shoaib, a spokesman for the families, said after the meeting.
Saleh was arrested on Sunday by the ISF Intelligence Bureau on charges of having links to the kidnappers of two Turkish pilots who were abducted on Friday near the Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport.
For his part, Sheikh Abbas Zgheib, who has been tasked by the Higher Islamic Shiite Council to follow up the case of the abducted pilgrims, said the delegation discussed the "latest developments" with Charbel.
"He briefed us on the latest developments pertaining to the nine hostages and the atmosphere was positive," he added.
"The Turkish state is responsible for the return of the nine abductees to Lebanon," said Zgheib.
In an interview with LBCI television, the cleric said: "Charbel informed us that Mohammed Saleh has nothing to do with the kidnapping operation and that he is being interrogated over the congratulations phone call he had received."
But he warned: “If Mohammed Saleh is not released today, we will consider him to be kidnapped by the Intelligence Bureau and we'll act accordingly."
On Sunday, the families of the abductees threatened to escalate their protests in the wake of Saleh's arrest.
A previously unknown group calling itself Zuwwar Imam al-Rida claimed the kidnapping of the two pilots. The relatives of the pilgrims held in Aazaz were quick to deny having any links to the abduction.
Eleven pilgrims were kidnapped in Syria's Aleppo region in May 2012 as they were making their way back to Lebanon by land from pilgrimage in Iran.
Two of them have since been released, while the rest remain in Aazaz.
Their relatives have held Turkey responsible for their ongoing abduction.
They have repeatedly vowed to take action against Turkish interests in Lebanon in order to pressure Ankara to release the captives.