The Turkish pilots abducted in Beirut two months ago are flying back to Turkey after being handed over to Turkish authorities in Lebanon, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters today. A Turkish Airlines plane which was sent to Lebanon hours earlier is bringing both pilots back to their country.
“I have just spoken with them a few moments ago. They are sending greetings to the Turkish people. They are about to depart to Turkey,” Davutoğlu said via Twitter a few moments before his live comments.
The pilots were brought to Beirut’s Rafic Hariri international airport by a helicopter, where they were met by Turkish ambassador İnan Özyıldız, after being released and delivered to the Lebanese authorities.
Davutoğlu said that the pilots did not receive any ill-treatment while being hostages. He thanked both pilots’ families for their patience during the negotiation process. He also thanked intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, Lebanese officials as well as his Qatari counterpart from his Twitter account.
Meanwhile, Lebanese officials said the nine Shiite pilgrims kidnapped in Syria over a year ago who were freed and brought to Turkey yesterday are heading to Lebanon.
The pilots kidnapped in retaliation will be released after their return, a Lebanese security source said.
Shortly earlier, Lebanon’s Interior Minister Marwan Charbel confirmed that the Turkish pilots were about to be released and handed over to Lebanese authorities.
Charbel had announced yesterday that the nine Lebanese pilgrims, hostages at the hands of a Syrian rebel group since May 2012 were “in safe hands” after crossing the Turkish border, adding that the release of the Turkish pilots will also come shortly as “part of the deal.”
The development was quickly confirmed by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who revealed that an intense diplomacy was pursued during the Feast of the Sacrifice.
“The matter has been solved to a great extent. We still will keep using caution until our pilots are delivered,” Davutoğlu said during a live interview on Oct. 18.
The two pilots, Murat Akpınar and Murat Ağca, were kidnapped Aug. 9 in a majority Shiite area of Beirut by family members of one of the Lebanese hostages in Syria.