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turkish airlines planeEarly on Friday, gunmen stopped a bus boarded it and kidnapped two pilots working for Turkish Airlines on Beirut’s airport road, Lebanon’s caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told reporters .

They were riding the bus from Rafic Hariri International Airport to their hotel when the assailants in two vehicles stopped it, Lebanon’s National News Agency NNA reported.

Reports on the number of attackers varied from four to eight.

Other employees aboard the bus made it safely to the hotel and are to head back to Turkey later Friday, the foreign ministry said.
“The Lebanese government has begun taking the necessary steps for an investigation,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry told reporters that  minister   Ahmet Davutoglu contacted caretaker PM  Najib Mikati and Speaker  Nabih Berri who both condemned the kidnapping of the Turkish pilot and copilot and assured to exert all necessary efforts to release them, according to Anatolia  news agency ANA.

ANA added that Davutoglu telephoned the crew of the airplane whose pilot and copilot were kidnapped .

Security agents in Beirut questioned the driver as a witness, NNA reported.

 

 

Kidnapping condemned

Lebanon’s March 14 coalition denounced on Friday the kidnapping of the two Turkish pilots

The March 14 group warned that “this incident aims at striking what is left of the Lebanese state’s credibility in maintaining Lebanon’s security and its relations with Arab and foreign countries.”

It also described the incident as “extremely dangerous because it risks categorizing the Beirut International Airport as an unsafe and hazardous airport, which would result in repercussions that will affect all the Lebanese citizens.”

March 14 demanded the Lebanese state immediately uncover the identity of the perpetrators and deliver the Turkish men to their embassy in Beirut.

Responsibility

A Group calling itself “Visitors of Imam al-Rida” claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the Turkish pilots, Al Jadeed  ( or New ) TV reported on Friday

Little is known about this group , but Alī ibn Musa al-Riḍā was the seventh descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the eighth of the Twelve Imams, according to the Shiite sect of Islam as well as an Imam of knowledge .

It is also not known whether this group is connected to the relatives of the 11 Shiite pilgrims who were kidnapped in Syria in May 2012 on their way from Iran to Lebanon. Turkey was involved in trying to help free the pilgrims from the Syrian rebels who kidnapped them in an Aleppo province. Turkey was accused by the relatives of not doing enough to free the pilgrims and for this reason they arranged several rallies, sit ins and protests against Turkish Airlines and the embassy in Beirut to pressure the Turkish government to do more.

One of the spokespersons for the Shiite pilgrims’ relatives , Sheikh Abbas Zgheib denied responsibility for the kidnapping of two Turkish pilots in Lebanon but sounded elated.

“So far, there is no indication of any involvement of the [Shiite pilgrims’] relatives in the kidnapping of the Turkish airplane’s pilot and his co-pilot,” Zgheib told the National News Agency on Friday .

However, Zgheib said that the Shiite pilgrims’ relatives support the kidnapping, especially if it aims at putting an end to the detention of their relatives in Syria.

“Had we known of the [pilots’] kidnapping beforehand, we would have encouraged this operation without hesitation. I think that the Lebanese [pilgrims] have been kidnapped [in Syria] for more than a year, and the Turkish [authorities] have been playing with the Lebanese people’s emotions and [degrading] Lebanon,” Zgheib said.

“If the goal behind the kidnapping [of the pilots] is to end the the [pilgrims’ ordeal], then we call on everyone to stand by the party that conducted the kidnapping,” he added.

He also described the kidnappers as noble people.

“I think that in Lebanon, [there are] a lot of noble people who [would] conduct this operation,” he said.

However, he said that he would condemn the operation if the goal behind it was a ransom.

 

Updates

Travel advisory

* As expected  Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a travel advisory  on Friday in which it called  on Turkish citizens to avoid traveling to Lebanon unless it is absolutely necessary . This will deal another blow to Lebanon’s tourism industry  which has been suffering ever since the uprising in Syria  erupted  two and a half  years ago .

* NNA reported that The crew of the aircraft whose pilot and copilot were kidnapped in Beirut were flown to Turkey via a Turkish airplane.

* Turkey’s Foreign Ministry  updated its travel advisory on Friday : “We advise Turks present in Lebanon to return to Turkey if they are able to.”

“Given the current situation it is vital that our citizens avoid all travel to Lebanon,” the Foreign Ministry in a statement posted on its website said.

“We suggest that citizens who are still in Lebanon return to Turkey if they can, or if they have to remain, to take all necessary measures to ensure their personal safety and be vigilant,”  the statement  added.

It  also said that  Ankara expected the Lebanese government to take “all necessary measures” to ensure the safety of Turkish citizens in the country.

 

 

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