Turkish special operation team ‘snatch’ Lebanese pilgrims inside Syria: Report
One of the nine Lebanese Shiite pilgrims abducted by rebels in Syria is greeted upon arrival in Bir al-Abed in the southern suburbs of Beirut on October 19, 2013, after being released in Turkey the previous day. AFP photoA special operations team from Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) has conducted an operation to rescue the kidnapped pilgrims in the midst of clashes in northern Syria, a daily has claimed.
Syrian rebels, who kidnapped the pilgrims in May 2012, transferred the pilgrims to the northern Syrian city of Azaz in early October as part of the deal of releasing two Turkish pilots in Lebanon, daily Sabah reported, quoting high-level officials. The deal foresees the simultaneous transfer of pilgrims to Turkey in Eid al-Adha with the release of the pilots. However, clashes intensified between the Northern Storm Brigade, the rebel group who held the pilgrims and the al-Qaeda-linked group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Azaz on Oct. 15.
The MİT then decided to send a special operations team to Azaz to take the pilgrims out of the clashes. Upon the approval of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the group was sent to Turkey’s Syrian border by the plane. The group then headed to Azaz and took the pilgrims without any shootout, the report said.
The release of the pilots seized just outside Beirut international airport in August came a day after the Shiite pilgrims were transferred to Turkey and handed to Lebanese officials in Istanbul. The pilots had been abducted on Aug. 9 by a group that demanded that Turkey use its influence with Syrian rebels to secure the release of the nine Lebanese.