BEIRUT: Three suspects detained for alleged involvement in the kidnapping of two Turkish pilots were released on bail Monday, a judicial source said.
The source told The Daily Star that Mount Lebanon Investigative Judge Ziad Mekanna ordered their release on LL500,000 bail each.
The three suspects – two of them members of the Saleh family and the third from the Zoghaib family – were interrogated over their alleged involvement in the August kidnapping of two Turkish Airlines pilots on Beirut’s airport highway.
Mekanna had referred them earlier Monday to the prosecutor’s office in Mount Lebanon.
The pilots were released Saturday after international mediation efforts resulted in the release of nine Lebanese pilgrims held by Syrian rebels.
Eleven Lebanese Shiites were kidnapped by a rebel group on their way from a pilgrimage in Iran near the Aleppo district of Azaz in May 2012. Two were released in the following months.
Mekanna’s decision was also consistent with that of Mount Lebanon Prosecutor Judge Claude Karam, who did not appeal their release.
“Releasing the three does not mean their case was closed because they are still suspects on charges of involvement in abduction and their case will remain open while they are free,” a judicial source told The Daily Star.
The three suspects will have to appear before the investigative judge upon his request and stand trial if their case is referred to court.
“It will require a judicial decision to close the case after it is determined whether the three were involved in the abduction,” the source said.
As for the 10 warrants issued against the relatives of the former hostages, the source said the warrants were still in effect.
“No one has yet asked to withdraw the warrants as this would also require the approval of the investigative judge,” the source added.
Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim expressed his appreciation, in a statement released by General Security, that citizens had paraded flags and portraits of prominent figures to celebrate the return of the pilgrims, but asked that they be taken down swiftly because “what was accomplished was a national achievement reflecting the government’s vested interest in all its citizens.”
Ibrahim also expressed hope in the statement that mediation efforts would lead to the release of Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, who were abducted in April by armed men near the Turkish border.
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt hailed Monday the role of the General Security chief in the case of the released hostages.
“We must hail the great efforts exerted by General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim to end the crisis of the abducted Lebanese pilgrims and bring them to freedom after long months spent in captivity,” Jumblatt said in his weekly column for the PSP-affiliated Al-Anbaa website.
Ibrahim played a key role in the negotiation process to secure the release of the pilgrims who returned home over the weekend.
Jumblatt said that Ibrahim’s role in the case proved that state institutions were capable of resolving crisis situations. “Ibrahim’s efforts prove that only official figures and institutions have the right to negotiate with the outside world whether during a crisis or otherwise.”
The PSP leader added that interventions from “a lot of [unofficial] sides in the case only led to complications that delayed the release of pilgrims.”
He also congratulated the released Lebanese pilgrims who were joyfully reunited with their families.
The release of the hostages was part of a swap deal involving over 100 female prisoners held in Syria as well as two Turkish Airlines pilots kidnapped in Beirut.
Jumblatt said the release of the pilots was also an important step in the right direction for Lebanon.
He addressed the possible release of the female prisoners and lamented the role played by the international community in the Syria crisis.
“Although the issue is still vague and despite the importance of these women regaining their freedom, this does not eliminate the fact that hundreds of thousands of Syrians are still being detained by the regime,” Jumblatt said.
“There are also people who have gone missing inside their country and others displaced in Syria and abroad while the so-called international community has not lifted a finger to help them,” he added.
“[The international community] has instead rewarded the regime by hailing its efforts in helping international experts remove its chemical weapons arsenal, while disregarding the destruction, murder and kidnapping committed [by the regime],” Jumblatt added.
Elsewhere, Speaker Nabih Berri discussed Monday the details of the hostages release with Maj. Gen. Ibrahim in his Ain al-Tineh residence in Beirut.
The two also discussed the security situation in the country.
Additionally, Berri received a congratulatory phone call from Gaza’s Hamas premier Ismail Haniyeh about the release of the hostages in Azaz.
American Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale also expressed his “warm welcome” of the release of the Lebanese pilgrims, and said he wished all foreign nationals detained in Syria would be released soon, including the two kidnapped bishops, according to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy.