BEIRUT (Reuters) - A powerful Shi‘ite Muslim clan handed over a Turkish hostage to Lebanese security forces on Monday, freeing a man believed to be the only remaining captive among more than 20 people abducted by the group last month.
The armed wing of Lebanon’s Meqdad clan kidnapped Turkish businessman Aydin Tufan Tekin in mid-August along with a group of Syrian men. The hostages were taken in retaliation for the abduction of a Meqdad relative in Damascus, seized by rebels trying to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“I am fine,” a smiling Tekin told a group of journalists as he got out of a car at the General Security office in Beirut, where he was handed over to Turkish officials.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lebanese security forces freed the four remaining Syrian hostages in a midnight raid but had been unable to free Tekin.
The four Syrians told a local television station they had been tortured and forced to confess they were rebels fighting Assad.
The Meqdad clan said it had kidnapped Syrians working with the rebels as well as a Turkish hostage as a means of putting pressure on both the Syrian rebels and Turkey, which has supported the 17-month-old uprising in neighbouring Syria.
The clan later released most of the hostages, except the four Syrians and Tekin.
The kidnapping of foreigners has become a growing concern in Lebanon, which is worried about a possible spillover of sectarian violence from the revolt in the neighbouring country.
Tensions have been rising between Sunni Muslims in Lebanon, who generally support the uprising led by Syria’s Sunni majority, and Shi‘ites who usually support Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi‘ite Islam.
An official in Turkey’s foreign ministry said Tekin had been brought to the Turkish embassy in Beirut and would be sent back to Turkey the same night.
Another Turkish hostage still remains in the hands of a separate group of kidnappers in Lebanon. That group is demanding the release of 11 Shi‘ite Lebanese men being held by rebels in northern Syria.
The army said it had freed the four Syrians in a midnight raid in a southern suburb of the capital controlled by the powerful Shi‘ite guerrilla group Hezbollah, a longtime ally of Assad in Lebanon. Critics had accused the group of tolerating or authorising the abductions.
The four Syrians told the MTV Lebanon news channel they had been tortured and forced to confess on the regional news channel Al Mayadeen, which is based in Lebanon.
“I was forced by threats to say I was in the FSA, that I was a captain ... I have nothing to do with this, I‘m just a shop worker here to support my wife and kids,” one said, referring to the Free Syrian Army.
Another freed hostage, who gave his name as Mohammed, said he was beaten, electrocuted, and placed in a coffin in episodes of torture that lasted 15 days.
“I was put on Al Mayadeen and they made me say things I shouldn’t have,” he told MTV Lebanon.
“They wanted me to say I am revolting against Assad’s apostate army and the Alawites and Shi‘ites. They made me say it and then they believed it. But I reject all of this.”
Sami Kleib, head of news for Al Mayadeen, said his correspondent was not complicit in the forced confession but was taken to the scene blindfolded, told he could film for just three minutes and could not ask his own questions.
Additional reporting by Ezzat Baltaji in Beirut and Jonathon Burch in Ankara; Editing by Michael Roddy