BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Turkish Airlines pilot and his colleague were abducted in Lebanon on Friday by armed men who forced them from a bus driving from Beirut airport in the early hours of the morning.
The Turkish foreign ministry and the airline said they were in close contact with the Lebanese authorities but had no immediate information on who was behind the abductions or on the condition of the two airline staff.
Turkey, hoping to cement its role as a power in the Middle East, has supported rebels battling to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and may have influence over fighters who captured Lebanese Shi’ites close to the Turkish border in northern Syria last year.
“We immediately contacted the Lebanese authorities at every level ... and they are conducting a very comprehensive investigation,” Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu said.
“As yet, we do not know who did it or for what purpose.”
The rest of the crew were safe in a Beirut hotel and would be returning to Turkey shortly, he said.
A Turkish diplomat said the two Turks were seized at around 3 a.m. (0000 GMT / 8:00 p.m. Tuesday EDT) when gunmen stopped a vehicle carrying the Turkish Airlines crew to their hotel in the Lebanese capital.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the families of Lebanese Shi’ites captured last year by rebels in northern Syria, close to the Turkish border, have demanded Ankara take greater steps to win their release.
A senior Lebanese political source told Reuters earlier this week that authorities had information that relatives of the Lebanese detainees were planning to take Turkish hostages.
However Lebanese media quoted a spokesman for the families as saying they had no link to Friday’s incident.
Two Turkish nationals were briefly abducted in Lebanon last year, following the capture of the Lebanese Shi’ites in Aleppo province in Syria and the separate detention of a Lebanese national in Damascus by rebels.
Reporting by Dominic Evans, additional reporting by Nick Tattersall and Asli Kandemir in Istanbul; Editing by Elizabeth Piper