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Turkish pilots kidnapped in Lebanon

Investigation under way after the abduction of two Turkish Airlines employees by armed men in Beirut. Pilot and co-pilot were kidnapped after they left the airport for their hotel.

BEIRUT – Armed men have kidnapped two Turkish pilots working for Turkish Airlines on Beirut’s airport road, according to AlJazeera.

Lebanon’s interior minister and Turkey’s ambassador to Lebanon confirmed the incident that took place on Friday moning in separate statements.

Turkish Airlines’ press office announced that the pilots were Turkish nationals named Murat Agca and Murat Akpinar.

In a statement on the incident, Marwan Charbel, Lebanon’s interior minister, said: “A kidnapping operation took place at 3:00am targeting a bus carrying several members of a Turkish Airlines crew going from the airport to the hotel. Gunmen kidnapped two passengers from the bus, the pilot and co-pilot.”
 
He added that an investigation was under way.

Inan Ozyildiz, Turkey’s ambassador to Lebanon, told Turkey’s Anatolia News Agency that the pilot completed a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Beirut and were on their way from the airport to their hotel when the abduction happened.

The seven other passengers on the targeted bus were flight attendents, he said. “The driver and flight attendents were forced to get off from the bus, and pilot and co-pilot were kidnapped [together with the bus],” Ozyildiz said.

He said the flight attendents were unharmed and expected to return to Turkey on a Turkish Airlines on Friday evening. He said neither the embassy nor Turkish Airlines had received any demands for ransom.

“The case was closely being followed,” Ozyildiz said, adding that he was working with “Lebanese forces to free the two pilots”.

Conflict spillover
The kidnapping could be connected with the war in Syria which frequently spills over into neighbouring Lebanon.

The Turkish government is a staunch supporter of the Syrian opposition. On the other hand, Hezbollah, the armed Lebanese Shia political group, actively provides support for the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Two Turkish nationals were briefly abducted in Lebanon last year, following the capture of nine Lebanese Shia Muslims in Syria’s northern Aleppo province and the separate detention of a Lebanese national in Damascus by rebels.

The abducted Shias were part of a group of pilgrims who went missing as they were returning from a pilgrimage in Iran. The women in the group and two men were released later.

A representative for the families of the kidnapped Lebanese has denied in a statement any involvement in the abduction of the Turkish pilots. There have been several failed rounds of negotiations to free the Lebanese.

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