Lebanon News

Lebanon judge charges 13 for abduction of Turkish pilots

File - Murat Agca, one of two Turkish pilots kidnapped by armed assailants who intercepted a bus carrying Turkish Airlines personnel from the city’s airport to central Beirut, Lebanon, early Friday, Aug.9, 2013.(AP Photo)

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge charged 13 people Tuesday, most of whom are relatives of Lebanese held in Syria, over the involvement in the alleged kidnapping of two Turkish Airlines pilots in an investigation that has led to the arrests of three suspects.

One of the suspects as well as a representative from the Higher Shiite Council denied the families played any part in the abduction.

Mount Lebanon Prosecutor Claude Karam charged 13 individuals for involvement in the abduction of the pilots, through the use of violence and threats with arms, as well as inciting kidnappings and undermining the state's authority.

Pilot Murat Akpinar and his co-pilot Murat Agca were abducted on Aug. 9 near the Rafik Hariri International Airport by gunmen.

The two are reportedly held in separate locations across the country.

A group calling itself Zuwwar al-Imam Ali al-Reda claimed responsibility for the abduction, demanding in exchange the release of nine Shiite Lebanese held in Syria since May 2012.

Relatives of the Lebanese hostages blame Turkey for not doing enough to win the hostages' release and have staged a number of protests against Turkish institutions in Lebanon.

Turkey, a supporter of the Syrian opposition, has repeatedly said it would exert efforts to free the Lebanese hostages.

The individuals who were charged with the kidnapping include three who were arrested last week and another identified as Hayat Awali, the spokesperson for the relatives of the Lebanese hostages.

The suspects include a number of relatives from the Saleh and Zoghieb families.

Karam referred the case to Mount Lebanon Investigative Judge Ziyad Mkanna who questioned the three detainees and issued arrest warrants against them.

A date will be scheduled to call the rest in for questioning.

A judicial source told The Daily Star on Tuesday that the kidnapping case was a high priority, describing it as a high-profile national case.

"The process of tracing the kidnappers is still ongoing with the aim of locating the two hostages and arresting the [kidnappers],” the source said.

Sheikh Abbas Zogheib, tasked by the Higher Shiite Council to follow up on the Lebanese in Syria, described the charges as baseless and a “ complete mockery.”

“The mere fact that the list of names suspected of kidnapping includes relatives of the hostages in Syria speaks for itself,” Zogheib told The Daily Star.

“We will try to maintain calm on the streets but the situation is becoming more difficult ... as if the aim behind the charge was to provoke [street violence],” he added.

Zogheib also said the relatives were innocent and that he believed the charges were groundless.

Asked whether the suspects, some of whom are related to the Lebanese hostages, would respond to the interrogation request, Zogheib said: “On what basis would someone like Hajj Hayat be charged?”

He also questioned the reactions of some political figures following the abduction who called for reopening the Qlayaat airport.

“Why don’t they charge these people?” he asked.

Hayat Awali denied she had a role in the kidnapping, asking them to put off releasing the Turkish pilots until the Lebanese in Syria are freed.

“How did the judge come to such a conclusion since he did not listen to my testimony?” Awali told a local television station in Beirut’s southern suburb.

“I have been accused of something I didn’t do,” she added.

“I want to ask the kidnappers not to free the Turks unless our relatives in Syria are released as well as those detained in Roumieh Prison,” Awali said.

The spokesperson for the relative of those held in Syria warned they “would break the arms” of security personnel if they sought to arrest them, blasting the intelligence branch of the Internal Security Forces.

“The Information Branch has turned the relatives into kidnappers because it is an accomplice,” Daniel Shoaib said.

“If they want to arrest us, they should take into consideration that we will break their hands [if they try],” he added.

Shoaib also said that the relatives would not allow the Information Branch to approach their neighborhoods, warning the relatives would block roads nationwide if need be.





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