Abducted Lebanese expected home after 1.5 years

Abducted Lebanese expected home after 1.5 years
Sat Oct 19, 2013 20:01:53

Nine Lebanese pilgrims in Syria have finally been freed after being held hostage for nearly a year and a half, and they are expected in Beirut within hours with families waiting impatiently at the airport.

The release was reportedly part of a negotiated deal which is likely to lead to the release of two Turkish pilots being held in Lebanon.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and Secretary General of the General Security Abbas Ibrahim are also present at the airport according to Al Alam reporter.

A group of militants were holding the Lebanese civilians hostage since May 2012. The kidnappers kept issuing new demands in return for their freedom.

The pilgrims were on a bus returning to Lebanon from a pilgrimage in Iran. In Aleppo province, their bus was stopped by a group of militants who then abducted the passengers. 

Two of the hostages were later released, but the other nine remained in custody. 

The kidnapping exacerbated regional tensions, leading to the kidnapping of two Turkish Airlines pilots in Beirut, Lebanon.

Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel confirmed this Friday that nine Lebanese hostages "are now in Turkish territories". "The story is over," Reuters quoted him as saying. “In the next 24 hours, they will be with us [in Lebanon]."

Charbel also stated that he expects the two Turkish pilots, who were also abducted by militants, to be released soon. "We insist that those who kidnapped the Turks release them," he said. The two pilots were seen for the very first time since the kidnapping on a video released Wednesday. "This is all part of one deal," Charbel added.

After news of the pilgrims’ release, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated that the two pilots are also close to being released. "Very favorable developments are under way concerning the two Turkish pilots, this matter has been largely settled," Davutoglu said on local television, highlighting that the men could be freed "within hours or days.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned the wife of one of the kidnapped pilots, stating that her husband and the other pilot would be released soon. "We are very close to reaching a happy ending, this could happen any time," state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Erdogan as saying.

Details of the negotiation process and who ran it remain unclear.


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