BEIRUT: Interior Minister Marwan Charbel quoted Friday Turkish officials as saying the head of the group behind the kidnapping of a Lebanese group in Syria in 2012 has been killed. But a mediator in the case denied Abu Ibrahim is dead.
"I have received information from the Turkish side that Abu Ibrahim has been killed and that Abu Jaser has replaced him," Charbel was quoted as telling a delegation from Lebanon’s Journalists Syndicate.
He added that Abu Ibrahim died as a result of wounds.
Charbel said contacts are still ongoing with Turkey in order to resolve the case of the kidnapped Lebanese.
However, a mediator involved in the case of the kidnapped pilgrims who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity said Abu Ibrahim was still alive.
“He is not dead. He is wounded but he is still alive,” the mediator said, adding that the Abu Ibrahim periodically “played dead” in order to alleviate pressure on him to release the Lebanese Shiites.
News of Abu Ibrahim's death surfaced in recent days when the Free Syrian Army allegedly attacked Azaz where the Lebanese are thought to be held.
The source, who described Abu Ibrahim as flaky, said the kidnapper has yet to outline specific demands for the return of the Lebanese.
"Sometimes Abu Ibrahim says he is holding the Lebanese because he wants money and at other times he claims it is for sectarian reasons," the mediator said.
Eleven Lebanese were kidnapped by a rebel group on May 22, 2012, in the Syrian district of Aleppo after crossing from Turkey, returning from a pilgrimage to Iran. Two of the group were released in late 2012.
The mediator said the Free Syrian Army had launched an attack to free the pilgrims and that Abu Ibrahim was constantly relocating the group in Azaz, Aleppo.
However, the mediator said the pilgrims were in good health.
Also Friday, President Michel Sleiman sought clarification as to whether there was a link between a Syrian Army defector who is in the custody of Lebanese officials and the 2012 abduction of Lebanese pilgrims in Syria.
“[The president] asked General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim to investigate the validity of media reports that there is a link between Syrian Lt. Mohammad Tlas and the kidnapping of Lebanese in Azaz and what he [Tlas] has information about this issue," according to Sleiman’s office.
Lebanon's Military Tribunal has ordered the deportation of Tlas, a defector from the Syrian military who was sentenced earlier this week in Lebanon to two months in prison and fined for illegally entering the country.
However, Lebanon’s interior minister said Wednesday that the deportation was unlikely to take place.
According to a security source, Tlas has yet to be handed over to General Security, the security apparatus responsible for returning him to Syria.
“Political considerations” would likely block such a move, the security source, who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity Wednesday, added.
Sleiman said Thursday that there are instructions against deporting any Syrian back to their country in line with the Human Rights Declaration.
Qatar has recently appointed an official to follow up on the case of the kidnapped men. The appointment came after Lebanese officials traveled to Doha and appealed for help given the Arab state’s close ties with the Syrian opposition.
Turkey has said that it is exerting efforts to secure the release of the kidnapped and has described the case as “sensitive.”
According to the statement Friday, Sleiman and Ibrahim also discussed the required means to secure the return of the nine pilgrims who remain captives in the Syrian border town.