Lebanon’s Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam denounced the abduction of the Turkish pilot and his co-pilot on Beirut’s airport road early on Friday.
“I condemn kidnappings and any operations that create further tension in Lebanon,” Salam said in a statement released on Friday.
He also noted that this incident “tarnishes Lebanon’s image and its reputation.”
Salam went on to urge “the official authorities to follow up on this [case].”
Lebanon’s March 14 coalition was the first to denounce 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.
Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) said that the previously unknown group “Visitors ( Zouwar) of Imam al-Rida ” which claimed responsibility for kidnapping the two Turkish pilots issued a statement on Friday saying that the (Turkish ) pilots “will only be released when the Lebanese hostages in Syria return to Lebanon.
Early on Friday, gunmen stopped a bus boarded it and kidnapped a pilot and a co-pilot 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”.
Charbel said that very little is known about the “Visitors ( Zouwar) of Imam al-Rida ” group . But reports say the group is named after Alī ibn Musa al-Riḍā , who was known as an Imam of knowledge and who was the seventh descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the eighth of the Twelve Imams, according to the Shiite sect of Islam.
It appears from the statement quoted by NNA , 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 the Lebanese government in its negotiation to free the pilgrims from the Syrian rebels who kidnapped them in an Aleppo province.
Turkey which had nothing to do with the kidnapping , was accused by the relatives of not doing enough to free the pilgrims and for this reason they ( the relatives ) arranged during the past several months several rallies, sit-ins and protests against Turkish Airlines and the Turkish embassy in Beirut to pressure the Turkish government to do more.
One of the spokespersons for the Shiite pilgrims’ relatives , Sheikh Abbas Zgheib who is a also a member of the Highest Shiite council ( and reportedly the brother of one of the hostages) denied responsibility for the kidnapping of the 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.
In what was described by analysts as a major blow to Lebanon’s tourism industry which has been suffering ever since the uprising in Syria erupted nearly two and a half years ago, 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 .
“We advise Turks present in Lebanon to return to Turkey if they are able to.” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said
“Given the current situation it is vital that our citizens avoid all travel to Lebanon,” the Foreign Ministry also said in a statement posted on its website
“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.