Maher Mohammad Zeaiter, the 72-year-old driver of the bus, told police he was unable to prevent the gunmen from abducting the Turkish pilots.
Commentators on Turkish–Lebanese relations are already speculating that the kidnapping is linked to the ongoing conflict in Syria, which often spills over into Lebanon. The Turkish government openly supports opposition groups fighting against Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, whereas Lebanese Shi’ites, many of whom support Hezbollah, are loyal to the Assad regime.
Local media reports published earlier today say that a group called Zuwwar Imam Ali Al-Reda has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The group has reportedly demanded the release of Lebanese hostages held in Syria in exchange for the pilots.
Those disputed Lebanese hostages have harmed Turkish–Lebanese relations. The families of those hostages have been holding protests outside official Turkish government offices in Beirut and have claimed that Ankara is responsible for the kidnappings because of its support for the Syrian rebels.
The families of the Lebanese hostages have denied involvment in today’s kidnapping of the Turkish pilots. According to Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, Daniel Shoeb, a spokesperson for the relatives, told local media: “We have nothing to do with it. We were surprised and heard about it from the news just like everybody else.”
Sheikh Abbas Zogheib of the Higher Shi’ite Council, who has been following the case of the Lebanese hostages held in Syria, also stated that the families were not involved in today’s kidnapping.
He told the Daily Star that “the relatives have nothing to do with it . . . but every Lebanese that has dignity and love for his country should do anything to end the case of the Lebanese.”
Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency mentioned that Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke with Lebanon’s prime minister, Najib Mikati, and speaker of parliament, Nabi Berri. The two Lebanese political figures reportedly expressed their regret and said the incident should not affect relations with Ankara.