ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Shiite masked gunmen from the Meqdad clan, gather at the Meqdad family’s association headquarters in Beirut. REUTERS photo
The case of 11 Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria, which was set to be solved in its very early stages, has become further complicated by the kidnapping of two Turkish citizens in Lebanon, increasing concern among Turkish diplomatic sources that the issue is gaining a political dimension with deeper implications.
Turkey’s government is having a hard time convincing the Lebanese that it has made every effort to secure the release of the pilgrims, who are believed to be in the hands of an opposition group that is not controlled by the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA). In view of Turkey’s close relationship with opposition groups in Syria, especially the Shiite groups, Lebanon is finding it hard to believe that the Turkish government has been incapable of securing the release of the pilgrims after three months. The case continues to be a mystery, as the motivations of the captors remain unclear. The pilgrims were on the verge of release in the early days after their capture, but the involvement of countries like Qatar has negatively affected the process. “Seeing the involvement of different players, the captors probably concluded that they are holding something more valuable than they thought at the beginning,” said a Turkish source familiar with the issue.New turn
The case has taken a new turn with the separate kidnapping of two Turkish citizens in Lebanon last week. While Abdulbasit Arslan, a truck driver, is believed to be held by the families of the pilgrims, Aydın Tufan Tekin, a businessman, is in the hands of the Meqdad clan, who claim that one of their members, Hassan Meqdad, was kidnapped nearly two weeks ago in Damascus by the FSA. Riad al-Asaad, the leader of the FSA, has categorically denied the claim. Turkish sources were not in a position to confirm whether Meqdad was kidnapped or if so, who his captors are, as chaos has taken hold in Syria.
“Turkey should reconsider its calculations,” said Maher Meqdad, a spokesperson for the clan, reiterating that it will escalate the situation if Hassan Meqdad is not released by today. “We don’t believe what the FSA says. They are the employees of the Turkish nation. Turks have their own electoral agenda as they have elections next year,” he told Lebanese daily L’Orient-Le Jour.
This rhetoric seems to have increased Turkish sources suspicions that the case is taking on a new dimension, whereby hostage-taking is now being used by supporters of the al-Assad regime to retaliate against Turkey for its efforts to help Syrian opposition.