Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Lebanese Hostage Plot Thickens

Relatives of Lebanese Shi'ite hostages waited for their loved ones. (photo by REUTERS/ Bilal Jawish )

By:Jaafar al-Aattar posted on Monday, May 28, 2012

Al-Safir newspaper learned yesterday [May 27], from an Arab figure that has joined the negotiations currently underway over 11 abducted Lebanese, that "the kidnappers took the Lebanese hostage but then used them to protect themselves while moving from Syria to the Turkish border. The kidnappers endured a security crackdown by the Syrian army at 2:30 pm last Friday, which made them return to an area near the Syrian-Turkish border in Syria."

About this Article

Jaafar al-Aattar reports on Lebanon’s epic diplomatic failure in returning 11 hostages intercepted by unknown assailants. Lebanese MPs confirmed that the hostages were en route to Beirut from Turkey, but as time went on, it became clear that the location of the hostages was, and still is, unknown.
Publisher: As-Safir (Lebanon)
Original Title:
Kidnappers' Plan Changes...New Demands for Release
Author: Jaafar al-Aattar
Published on: Monday, May 28, 2012
Translated On: Monday, May 28, 2012
Translator: Sami-Joe Abboud
Categories :Politics Security Reports / Studies Lebanon Syria
"The kidnappers have made political demands, including the release of detained dissidents. Up until last Friday, however, they had not asked for anything in return. In other words, their negotiation basket was empty, and they are afraid of suddenly being bombed by the Syrian regime," the figure explained.

The same source confirmed that "the media does not know who the abductors are, and everything that is being said about their identity is incorrect," and that "the kidnapping was initially carried out based on false information: The kidnappers initially believed that the passengers were members of an Iraqi Shiite organization, camouflaged by a visitors bus with women on board in order to infiltrate Syrian territory and fight alongside the Syrian regime."
However, when they stopped the bus and learned that the passengers were Lebanese, they had to change their plan: "They decided to release the women to send a message that they did not have any bad intentions. They deliberately asked the driver to inform a police station in Aleppo about the kidnapping and where it took place in order to cover their tracks as they transitioned to a safe place. Then, the kidnappers used the Lebanese hostages as a security cover."

The source insinuated that there were internal disputes among the kidnappers (the source used a suspicious expression, saying "treason is not exclusive to a specific party"), adding that "their location was about to be discovered since their cell phones were tapped, but they started moving from one place to another and divided the hostages into groups that were spread in different places."

The source seemed to resent the statements made by some Syrian opposition factions, especially "those claiming to be the kidnappers, because these allegations negatively affect the negotiation process." He alluded to “a figure from the Lebanese opposition who just arrived in Turkey. He is hardly working for the release of the kidnapped. He even offered them money."

The source said it contacted by phone "one of the persons who claimed to know details of the kidnapping and claimed responsibility for it," highlighting the seriousness of the issue. The leader of one dissident faction replied: "I had to claim responsibility for it after I discovered that everyone else denied responsibility!"

According to the Arab figure, the 11 Lebanese are fine, and intense negotiations are currently underway among Iraq, Turkey and a Lebanese figure in Turkey. “Until we are done negotiating and making demands, the plan is to transfer the hostages to a desolate place in Syria, so that the kidnappers can take a step back and keep their identities anonymous.

As for whether or not the kidnappers changed their plans after Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s speech, the source briefly explained, "The captivators were on their way to the border to deliver the hostages, but they ran into security problems, which made them hesitate."
Of course, Nasrallah's speech did have a negative impact because Nasrallah asserted that such actions will not change the party's position toward the Syrian regime, and he thanked the regime."

Lebanon has been expecting the 11 hostages’ release for six days, especially after the Lebanese government confirmed last Friday, with irresponsible enthusiasm, that the hostages had already arrived in Turkey and were on their way to Lebanon. This was considered to be a diplomatic scandal on the part of the Lebanese government.

Notably, Al-Safir, learned that Turkey literally told the Lebanese government that "the captors will arrive in Turkey in a few hours." However, the Lebanese authorities, in their own Lebanese way, chose to omit "in a few hours," and instead announced: "The hostages are in Turkey." The rest is history.

As a result of the confusion and taking Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri’s advice, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati canceled a planned visit to Turkey last Friday, since the positive results are unclear in Turkey.

Despite yesterday’s media fanfare, there have been no tangible results. Syrian dissident Brigadier General Hussameddine al-Awak announced that "five Hezbollah leaders are among those kidnapped," but the party categorically denied this, and condemned the Houla massacre that took place in Syria.
In an interview with Al-Safir, Secretary-General of the Syrian Liberal Party Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zo'obi said that he tried to get a video of the hostages and submit it to the ambassador of the World Organization for Human Rights Ali Akil Khalil, but some media statements impeded the process.

The following includes a series of scenes that summarize how the relatives of the 11 kidnapped have spent the last three days: from the minute they received the news and celebrated in the airport, until their long wait left them in a state of confusion. The scenes also include shots from Dahieh, a southern suburb of Beirut, which witnessed happy and sad moments and is quietly angry until further notice.

Scene number one: the preliminary information, which left no room for even the slightest suspicion, stated that the 11 kidnapped will arrive "in a few hours" in Beirut from Turkey. The relatives of the hostages looked as if they were at a mass wedding, hugging each other to the sound of beating drums and shouting. Everything seemed like a wedding.

Outside the so-called "VIP lounge," the parents of the hostages formed a big circle. At 4 pm that Friday, they were joyfully singing and dancing. Feelings of national pride and solidarity were clear in their media statements, especially after MP Saad Hariri announced that he would transport the hostages on his private jet; they treated the Future TV correspondent as if she were from Al-Manar.

Scene number two: at 6 PM that day, as Nasrallah delivered his Liberation speech in Bint Jbeil, buses carried dozens to the airport courtyard to celebrate the hostages’ return. Waving Hezbollah and Amal Movement flags while liberation songs were playing, the crowd’s enthusiasm increased.
A man in his thirties proudly told France 24, "on behalf of my abducted brothers, I thank Mr. Nasrallah and Speaker Nabih Berri for their efforts. On behalf of my brothers, I also thank [former] President Saad Hariri and all those who contributed to my kidnapped brothers’ liberation." The correspondent made a quick hand gesture, asking in amazement: "Sorry but, how many of your brothers were kidnapped?" "11 brothers!" he strictly answered. The correspondent looked startled, and the news crew made great efforts to convince the man to give them an interview. "I'm tired of interviews," he said. He then explained in a serious tone: "Madam, all of these people are my brothers; we are brothers in our homeland." The correspondent forced a smile.

Scene number three: On the eighth night, the courtyard was packed. The crowd was increasingly enthusiastic despite the long wait. People were aware in advance that the plane would not arrive until half past nine at night. Some were dancing, while others were giving statements to the media. People proudly thanked the "Sayyed," Berri and "every single person who helped us."

In a corner of the courtyard, young men from Dahieh were quietly chatting. A 20-year-old guy said, "The real benefit, besides the importance of the hostages’ release, is that the Syrians, be they workers or business owners in Lebanon, are now in a safe haven, away from beatings, robbery and attempted murders."

His friend also told Al-Safir that on the day the news of the kidnapping spread, the lives of the Syrians living in Dahieh were at risk. “In the neighborhood of Hay al-Sollom, some residents tried to set fire to a young Syrian man in a garbage dumpster. There is another Syrian man who owns a grocery store in the Bourj al-Barajne neighborhood. His store was robbed by some people who blamed him for the kidnapping of the 11 Lebanese men.”

Moreover, according to some people who were present in Bourj al-Barajne neighborhood, a young Lebanese man was severely beaten because local men suspected him of being a Syrian national. He tried to convince them that he was a resident of Bourj al-Barjne, only to be beaten again for “trying to impersonate a Lebanese citizen!”

The residents of Bourj al-Barajne said they established checkpoints at the airport road during the night. They checked license plates and stopped suspicious cars. They asked the drivers if he/she were Lebanese. Among the many cars they stopped, one was a Renault Rapid. When they asked the driver about his nationality, he answered with a Syrian accent. They beat him severely.

Had it not been for the intervention of Hezbollah and Amal Movement officials, “we would have gone to the houses of every person who opposes the Syrian regime; we know exactly where they live,” the residents said. However, “the people at the airport were relieved when they learned that the hostages were safe and sound and would come back home within a few hours,” they added.

Scene number four: News had spread that Hariri’s airplane was preparing to take off, but was delayed due to some logistic issues. Nevertheless, at 9 pm, the crowds were stretching out at the airport, waiting enthusiastically to welcome their beloved relatives.

No one questioned the return of the 11 abductees, or whether they were still in Turkey or Syria. The only question on their minds was: “Is Hariri really coming with the hostages on the plane?”

However, by 9 pm, after nearly five hours of waiting, the gathering crowds began wondering whether the airplane took off from Turkey or not. Was it true that the hostages’ airplane was in Cyprus and then heading to Beirut and later to Turkey?

The crowds stretched out from the airport’s military checkpoint to the Great Prophet Hospital. People were waving political party flags and holding flowers, waiting to welcome the hostages’ bus with rice and flowers.

Scene number five: At 10 pm, Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel spoke from the airport’s VIP lounge, where the relatives of the hostages were not allowed. The Interior Minister confirmed that “the hostages are on their way to Beirut. They will arrive within hours, but there are some logistic setbacks.”

Deputy Prime Minister Samir Mokbel, Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, Minister of Agriculture Hussein Hajj Hassan, and Minister of Administrative Development Mohammed Fneish were all present at the airport. This is not to mention MPs Ali Omar, Nawar Al-Sahili, Hani Kobeissi, Bilal Farhar and Sheikh Ahmed Kabalan and many others who were present at the VIP lounge. Later, Wafik Safa, Hezbollah’s head of security, joined the group of Lebanese officials at the airport.

Reporters and journalists were trying in vain to get new information. “Are the hostages swimming from Turkey to Lebanon or are they arriving on foot?” they derisively asked the officials, in response to their conflicting information.

Scene number six: At midnight, there was quite a commotion in the VIP lounge. “I will not speak if you keep shouting!” Minister Charbel said to the reporters. An eerie silence fell upon them. “You are on the air, Mr. Minister.”

With a confused tone Mr. Charbel said: “I do not know exactly where they are now. Perhaps Turkey is investigating them right now. Frankly, I do not know. There is a three-hour delay. We will go home now, and come back a few hours later, once they have boarded the plane.”

Amid the hustle and bustle, one report announced the breaking news that “One of the hostages hijacked the plane and is heading to the city of Brital in the Bekaa valley to negotiate ransom.” The Minister of Agriculture was heard whispering that: “Some are taking this delay lightly, but our national reputation is at stake.”

Outside the VIP lounge, a few people remained with the relatives of the hostages to display their solidarity. They made feeble attempts at humor to lighten the atmosphere. “Maybe Hariri’s aircraft ran out of fuel. Perhaps the pilgrims had a misunderstanding with one of the flight attendants. Or maybe, Mossad decided to hijack the plane in response to our celebration of liberation. Thank God there are no Turkish workers in Lebanon.”

Scene number seven: After midnight, while reporters were spreading Reuters’ news that the hostages are still in Syria and have not yet reached Turkey, the relatives of the kidnapped were perplexed, asking “what is happening?”

Immediately, and in an attempt to ease the shock, Hezbollah officials invited one member of each family to enter the VIP lounge to inform them of the news.

At 2 am, some young people protested the flight delay by trying to block the airport road by setting tires on fire. It was not long before the protests turned into armed clashes, but there were no casulaties. Others blocked Mar Michael road for about half an hour.

Scene number eight: On May 27, Dahieh awoke to the news that the hostages did not reach Turkey, and that the reasons remained unclear. Rumors began accumulating in the streets of the Lebanese southern suburb. Some said the hostages were deliberately killed, others said they were bombed by the Free Syrian Army on their way to Turkey. Many rumors circulated that the hostages were kidnapped by an unknown third party.

Amid this confusion, the hostages’ relatives were still trying to absorb the news. “It is a real scandal in every sense of the word! Where is the credibility of the State which officially declared that hostages were arriving in Turkey? What is happening? We do not believe anyone anymore, except Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Nabih Berri,” said Daniel Shuaib, brother of Haj Abbas, head of the Badr al-Kubra pilgrimage trip. People rallied in the Bir al-Abd and Hay al-Sollom neighborhoods to show solidarity with the relatives. “We have faith in Sayyed Hassan and Nabih Berri. They are working on this issue. They assured us that the hostages are safe and sound,” said the family of abductee Hassan Hamoud desperately, trying to hide their fear. The family confirmed that their son is not affiliated with Hezbollah.

Scene number nine: Sullen silence prevailed among Dahieh’s residents. “The hostages are safe and sound. Within a few hours, we will receive their voice recording,” said Zo’obi. Hezbollah security forces were spread around Dahieh to prevent road blocking. The airport was empty of the people waiting for the hostages’ return, and the VIP lounge was closed.

The hostages’ relatives reprimand the Lebanese government, and demand “international organizations” to interfere. After weeping for joy, believing they were about to meet their loved ones, the relatives of the hostages are turning a deaf ear to the promises of the Lebanese officials, especially those who say, “within a few hours.”
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