BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Thursday that the 11 kidnapped Lebanese pilgrims were taken hostage in order to be used as bargaining chips on the Lebanese political scene.
“I think that the kidnapped were taken as hostages to be used for domestic Lebanese purposes,” Mikati told a delegation of the Editors’ Syndicate at the Grand Serail in an indirect reference to the demands by the kidnapped Lebanese. The demands were broadcast on television earlier this week.
In footage aired Tuesday by LBCI, several of the captives defended their Syrian rebel captors, saying they were fighting for freedom.
“We demand that the Lebanese government recognize the Free Syrian Army before it negotiates our release,” said Ali Abbas, one of the hostages.
It is unknown if Abbas’s statements and those to similar effect by the other hostages were made under duress.
One of the kidnappers, Abu Ibrahim, also called on Lebanon to express its support for the Syrian revolution and urged the Lebanese people “to speak the truth.”
Mikati said that the government did not have any direct contact with the kidnappers but that "there were indirect messages.”
“In any case, our first and foremost goal is to secure the safety of the kidnapped and their return to their families," he added.
The Shiite hostages were kidnapped after crossing into Syria from Turkey on May 22. They were on their way back to Lebanon from a pilgrimage to Shiite holy sites in Iran. The captors set the women and elderly men free shortly after abducting them.
The prime minister also noted that Turkey continues to work on securing the release of the hostages but that the captives are still inside Syrian territory.
Earlier this week, a representative of the families warned that Turkish nationals in Lebanon could face the same fate as the Lebanese hostages if the country does not work to resolve the case.