BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Turkish nationals shrug off kidnap threats

Army troops at the site of the abduction of the two Turkish pilots. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Turkish nationals in Greater Beirut are reacting calmly to a threat made earlier this week that they are all targets for kidnapping, in the wake of the recent abduction of two Turkish Airlines pilots near Beirut Airport.

Hayat Awali, a spokeswoman for the families of the Shiite pilgrims kidnapped in Syria last year, upped the ante Monday when she issued a blanket warning that “any Turkish citizen in the southern suburbs and the city of Beirut” would be a target for retaliatory kidnapping.

The threat was made after Internal Security Forces personnel arrested Mohammad Saleh, who is being held over alleged involvement in the kidnapping of the pilots. Saleh’s relative is one of the pilgrims who were abducted in 2012 near Aleppo, and the hostages’ families blame Turkey for its support of Syrian rebels, who are holding the nine men.

Lebanon’s Al-Ahed football club has a Turkish coach, Bahtiyar Can Vanli. He told The Daily Star that he was unaware of the threat to kidnap Turkish nationals.

“To be honest, I didn’t hear about the statements [by Awali]. ... I’m really sad to hear such things,” Vanli said, commenting that he was completely focused on his preseason preparations with the four-time cup winners.

In contrast, Timur Goksel, former spokesperson and special adviser to UNIFIL peacekeeping troops, was quite aware of the threat of kidnappings, which was made during a live television broadcast.

“There have been anti-Turkish incidents in the past, but they were specific incidents against specific people,” Goksel said, adding that the threat “was upsetting.”

“It affects tourists that the country needs very badly right now, as well as the country’s image. ... It might affect the feelings of Turks, but I don’t feel threatened in any way.”

This isn’t the first time Turkish nationals have been kidnapped in Lebanon. In August 2012 Aidan Toufan was kidnapped by the Meqdad clan in retaliation for the abduction of one of their family members in Syria, by a group claiming to be part of the rebel Free Syrian Army. Shortly after Toufan another Turk, Abd Basset Orssolane was also kidnapped, with the Meqdads saying they were not involved.

The two were eventually released when the Azaz hostage-takers released two of the 11 Lebanese pilgrims last year.

Abu Karim, a concierge in Beirut, is a native of the city of Mardin and has been living in Lebanon since 1974.

“I’ve never had problems with anyone,” Abu Karim said. “All my friends know I’m Turkish and I’ve never had a problem because of my nationality.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 15, 2013, on page 3.

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