BEIRUT: Cardinal Beshara Rai denounced Sunday the recent kidnapping of two Turkish pilots in the Lebanese capital, describing the act as “shameful,” and appealed for the release of the nine Lebanese hostages being held in northern Syria as well as two Syrian bishops.
“Yesterday, the Lebanese security on the airport road was tarnished with the kidnapping the Turkish pilots, while the security of the state is absent,” Rai said in his Sunday sermon.
“I denounce and condemn such a shameful kidnapping,” he added.
Two crew members of Turkish Airlines were kidnapped Friday by gunmen in the Lebanese capital after departing Beirut’s international airport.
The early morning kidnapping of Turkish Airlines pilot Murat Akpinar and his co-pilot Murat Agca appeared linked to demands for the release of a group of Lebanese kidnapped in northern Syria by rebels last year.
Eleven Lebanese returning from a pilgrimage to the Imam al-Reda shrine in Iran were kidnapped in May 2012 by Syrian rebels in Azaz, in Syria’s Allepo province on the border with Turkey. Only two of the hostages have been released. Their relatives have repeatedly pressured, through a series of protests and sit-ins, Ankara to help secure the release of their loved ones.
The alleged group that claimed the kidnapping, Zuwwar al-Imam Ali al-Reda, which roughly translates to “the visitors of the shrine of [Imam] Ali al-Reda,” demanded Friday in a statement the release of the nine remaining Lebanese pilgrims, saying: “Visitors’ [Lebanese hostages’] return: pilots release.”
Rai blamed Lebanese officials for the deteriorating security situation in the country and reiterated his call for the release of the Lebanese pilgrims as well as the two Orthodox Syrian bishops who were abducted in Syria this April.
“Enough undermining of security, enough personal disputes at the expense of Lebanon and its people,” Rai, addressing officials, said.
“We reiterate the call for the release the hostages in Azaz and the kidnapped bishops in Syria,” he said.
The two bishops, Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, were kidnapped in late April near Aleppo in northern Syria.