Lebanon News

Meqdads warn of more abductions as Turkish hostage falls ill

Tufan, left, takes his iftar meal during an interview with two journalists at his captors’ house in the suburbs of Beirut.

BEIRUT: The Turkish businessman kidnapped by the Meqdad clan in Beirut last week has fallen ill and is currently on medication, Maher Meqdad, the clan’s spokesperson, told The Daily Star Sunday.

The spokesman also warned that his family’s kidnapping operations will resume if talks fail this week. “I have been notified by the Meqdad military wing that a doctor was called to examine Aydin Tufan twice over the weekend, and he is now on medication,” Meqdad said.

Turkish Embassy officials said that they have received information about Tufan through “indirect channels.”

“We have heard that he has fallen ill, but it is not a serious illness,” said an official from the embassy who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official also said that Turkey’s ambassador to Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz will meet Interior Minister Marwan Charbel to discuss the case of the kidnapped Turkish nationals in the country.

“So far there is a definite refusal by the abductors to release Tufan unless the relative [Hasan] is released in Syria,” the official added.

The Meqdads claim Tufan’s kidnapping, along with that of an unidentified number of Syrians, is in retaliation for the Free Syrian Army’s alleged abduction of their family member Hasan Meqdad in Damascus earlier this month.

A second Turkish citizen, Abdel-Basset Arslan, was also kidnapped last week, but the Meqdad family has denied involvement in his abduction.

According to the Turkish official, there is no information on Arslan. “Neither us nor the Lebanese authorities have any information on who has kidnapped him,” the official said.

Meqdad has argued that having a Turkish hostage is far more effective in pressuring the Free Syrian Army than simply kidnapping Syrians.

“Even if we kidnap 100 Syrians, it has no use ... No one cares how many Syrians are kidnapped, but Turkey is a democratic country, it has elections and it cares about its citizens,” he said.

Meanwhile, international advocacy group Human Rights Watch called on the Lebanese government to end the impunity of kidnappers and prosecute all those responsible for abducting Syrians and Turks in Lebanon.

“The Lebanese authorities should investigate and prosecute those responsible for the reported kidnapping of dozens of Syrian nationals and a Turkish man,” HRW said in a statement Sunday.

However, Meqdad said that new kidnappings might target other Turks next week if the government fails to secure the release of Hasan.

“Our goal is Turks,” he said. “We want our relative free, even if they release the 11 Lebanese pilgrims, the Turkish hostage will remain with us until Hasan is released.”

The clan released one of the kidnapped Syrians Sunday. “Our military wing released a Syrian human rights activist Mohammad Sleiman after finding no links between him and the Free Syrian Army,” Meqdad said.

According to Meqdad, the Turkish intelligence has been playing a big role in keeping the 11 Lebanese pilgrims hostages in Syria.

“So-called Abu Ibrahim is a Turkish intelligence officer,” Meqdad said, in reference to one of the abductors of the 11 Lebanese.

The pilgrims were kidnapped near Aleppo in May and were reportedly being held in nearby Azaz until Syrian government forces carried out a number of strikes on the city last week.

While Lebanese and Turkish officials continue to work to secure the safe release of the pilgrims, an armed group called “Al-Mokhtar al-Thaqafi Brigades” carried out kidnappings of Syrian nationals in Lebanon last week in retaliation after receiving reports that the abducted pilgrims were killed in an airstrike on Azaz.

An unconfirmed media report said that Al-Mokhtar al-Thaqafi Brigades released three of the kidnapped Syrians: Ahmad al-Najjar, Osama al-Fakhoury and Joumaa Nayef.

Spillover of the unrest in neighboring Syria has become more apparent in Lebanon with the recent spate of retaliatory kidnappings.

Many countries, including the United States, have called on their citizens to take extra precautionary measures during their travels to Lebanon.

Others, like the Arab Gulf countries, have already evacuated their citizens out of fear that they might be targeted.

The kidnappings in the country have also moved Sunni religious extremists in Lebanon to call for a “military council for the Sunnis.”

“We have decided to establish this council to get prepared for the upcoming developments ... People of Tripoli want a military council to be ready at all times to defend them in case the government fails to protect the people,” Sunni Muslim preacher Omar Bakri told local television channel MTV.

The call for arms was quickly criticized and attacked by the Future Movement Sunday.

“We completely reject such a move; Our defense and security guarantee will remain the state and only the state,” Tripoli MP and Future Movement official Mustafa Alloush said.

“Let it be clear, the Future Movement does not accept and will not accept such ideas that replace the role of the state,” he added.

Separately, activists of Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile condemned the spate of kidnappings across the country and warned against returning to the Civil War era during which hundreds of people went missing.

Speaking during a news conference, SOLIDE founder Ghazi Aad called on the government to carry out its responsibilities and put an end to the abductions. “Such kidnappings are crimes against humanity and they should be stopped,” Aad said.

Separately, residents of the Bekaa village of Majdal Anjar blocked roads leading to their village to protest against the arrest of a Syrian opposition activist.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 21, 2012, on page 3.




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