BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Lebanese Shi‘ite clan that abducted more than 20 Syrian opposition activists and a Turk declared an end to its wave of hostage-taking on Thursday, saying it had enough hostages to press for the release of a kinsman held by rebels in Damascus.
The Meqdad clan says it is seeking to put pressure on the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to release Hassan al-Meqdad by targeting both Syrians it says are part of the rebel force and citizens of Turkey, one of the rebels’ regional sponsors.
The kidnapping has evoked memories of Lebanon’s own civil war, reinforcing fears that the Syria conflict could trigger more instability in a much smaller neighbor where Damascus has had a major influence over politics and security for decades.
A member of the Meqdad family was quoted on Wednesday as saying citizens of Qatar and Saudi Arabia were also on their list of potential targets. In response, Gulf states ordered their citizens to leave Lebanon.
But Maher al-Meqdad, the spokesman for the clan, said the Meqdads were only targeting the FSA and Turks. “If Hassan (al-Meqdad) is killed, the first hostage we will kill is the Turk,” Maher al-Meqdad told Reuters.
“Regarding Saudis, Qataris and Gulf nationals, they are not targets for the Meqdad clan,” said Maher al-Meqdad, speaking in an area of southern Beirut controlled mainly by Hezbollah, the Iran-backed, Shi‘ite Lebanese party and guerrilla group.
The Meqdad clan has carried out the abductions using what it has described as the family’s “military wing” - gunmen who have appeared alongside some of the hostages in video recordings broadcast by local television stations.
The clan says Hezbollah, a party closely allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has nothing to do with the kidnappings.
The Turkish hostage was interviewed after his abduction on Wednesday by a Lebanese television channel. He said he had come to Lebanon for a business trip.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it was in contact with the family of the kidnapped Turk, who it named as Aydin Tufan Tekin.
“Our ministry and Beirut Embassy are continuing intensive efforts to secure the release unharmed of our kidnapped citizen,” it said in a statement released late on Wednesday
Meqdad said Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour had been in touch to seek the release of the Turk, but added that he would not be released until Hassan al-Meqdad was freed.
“Our adversary is only the Free Syrian Army,” he said. “We want our relative.”
Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Jon Boyle