Two Turkish Airlines pilots that were abducted in Beirut in August were released today after Turkish government appealed to Iran for help. It’s not known if Turkey paid a ransom or other consideration to secure their release.
Two Turkish Airlines pilots, Murat Agca and Murat Akpinar, were on their way from Beirut International Airport to their hotel on August 8th when their vehicle was intercepted by gunmen, members of a little known terrorist group called “Imam Reza’s Visitors.” This was apparently in retaliation to the abduction of 8 Shiite Lebanese by a Syrian Opposition faction. The Lebanese citizens were captured by Syrian militia on their way home from a Shiite pilgrimage. The Syrian insurrection against President Bashar Assad has become a largely sectarian conflict between Sunni Muslim opposition backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia and the ruling Alawite minority, an offshoot of Iran’s Shiite sect. It’s a badly kept secret that, with support from the United States, Turkey has financed and armed the Syrian Opposition among whose ranks Al Qaida-related militants have risen to prominence with spectacular atrocities before cameras. The two Turkish Air force fighter jets that were shot down off the Syrian coast last year are widely believed to have been involved in surveillance related to cross-border incursions.
The two pilots and their families spent fearful times as their abductors demanded ransom and the release of the Lebanese prisoners in Syria and threatened to execute them unless the demands were met. Turkish Government reportedly appealed to Iran and Saudi Arabia and started an intense diplomatic effort on both sides of the equation, which bore fruit today as the pilots were released to Lebanese authorities. At Istanbul Airport the pilots were met by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan who spent some time with them inside the plane. Also present at the airport was deputy leader Oran of the Official Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). Oran said the government’s foreign policy had led to this first-time event in Turkish aeronautics history, but that his party wasn’t planning to politicise it any further.