BEIRUT: Relatives of Lebanese hostages in Syria warned Monday they will kidnap any Turkish national in Beirut and its suburbs in protest of the ongoing detention of Mohammad Saleh suspected of involvement in Friday's abduction of two Turkish Airlines pilots.
“It has been proven to us that the detention of [Mohammad Saleh] is a political move by the Information Branch and a gift from them to Turkey,” Hayat Awali, a spokesperson for the families of the kidnapped, told reporters in Beirut’s southern suburb.
“Therefore and in response to that, a large group of the relatives of hostages in [the Aleppo district of] Azaz are heading to Beirut streets and any Turk seen there will be kidnapped,” she added.
A judicial source told The Daily Star earlier in the day that the arrest of Saleh was triggered after the relative received several calls on his mobile phone congratulating him on the kidnapping of the two pilots.
The source also said that Ali Jamil Saleh, the son of Jamil Saleh - one of the hostages being held in Azaz, was also suspected of being the mastermind behind the Turks' kidnapping.
Authorities are searching for Ali Jamil Saleh, the source added.
Daniel Shoueib, a member of the committee following up on the case of the Lebanese in Syria, said Ali Jamil Saleh physically could not have carried out the abduction.
"Ali Jamil Saleh, who's said to have carried out the operation, is hemiplegic,” Shoueib told The Daily Star.
He also lashed out at the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces, saying the security agency was dealing with the abduction of the Turks as a political affair.
“The Information Branch is dealing with this issue politically and the abduction of the Turkish pilots upset their boss [former Prime Minister] Saad Hariri,” Shoueib told The Daily Star.
Hezbollah and its allies in the March 8 group have long criticized the Information Branch, accusing the agency of serving the interests of its rival Future Movement and the March 14 coalition.
Shoueib also directed accusations against Hariri, who was involved in a failed negotiation process last year to release the Lebanese.
“Saad Hariri in coordination with Turkish Intelligence arranged the kidnapping of the Lebanese ... to use them later as a [bargaining chip],” he said.
Awali also demanded the release of Mohammad Saleh, a relative of one of the hostages, who was arrested Sunday in connection with Friday’s abduction.
“[Caretaker] Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told us that there was no evidence against this man and that he will be released, but he is still [in custody],” she said.
Shoueib said that caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel contacted him following the families’ announcement to condemn their threats.
Charbel met earlier in the day with a delegation of the relatives to discuss developments in the case of the nine Lebanese Shiites held by rebels in the Syrian district of Azaz since May of 2012.
Shoueb said Charbel informed them of minor progress in the ongoing negotiation process with the rebels who seek the release of female detainees in Syrian prisons.
“Although there is nothing solid to mention, Charbel told us that the negotiations were improving but not necessarily as a result of the Turks’ abduction,” he said.
Awali, surrounded by the families of the nine Lebanese hostages, voiced support for the abduction of the Turks on their way from Beirut airport, saying: “Their kidnapping will be the end of our case.”
Turkey urged its citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon or to leave the country immediately hours after pilot Murat Akpinar and his co-pilot Murat Agca were forced out of a shuttle bus at the Cocodi Bridge, less than a kilometer from Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport.
A group calling itself Zuwwar al-Imam Ali al-Reda claimed responsibility for the abduction, demanding in exchange the release of the nine Lebanese Shiites who were kidnapped by Syrian rebels in May 2012.
The relatives of the hostages blame Ankara for the continued detention of their loved ones and argue that Turkey, given its support for the Syrian opposition, has the ability to secure their safe return home.