Oct. 21--BEIRUT -- Two Turkish Airlines pilots who were released Saturday after spending over two months in captivity in Beirut detailed the moment of their abduction and said their kidnappers did not abuse them.
Their release was part of a three-way swap deal that also involved the freeing of nine Lebanese pilgrims held in Syria as well as a number of Syrian women detained by President Bashar Assad's government.
"We were kidnapped within three-five minutes [of boarding] the transfer from the airport to the hotel. Some vehicles appeared in front of our bus [and] nearly 10 armed [individuals] got out of three cars," pilot Murat Akpinar told reporters, according to the Anadolu News Agency.
"When I looked back I saw three more cars there. Someone pointed a gun at the driver. Someone kicked in the door of the car. I shouted 'do not shoot' in English," he said
Akpinar along with his co-pilot Murat Agca were taken on Aug. 9 on their way from Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport to a hotel. They appeared in two recordings on local media during their time in captivity.
A previously unknown group calling itself Visitors of the Shrine of Imam Ali al-Reda claimed the kidnapping, saying they would only release the Turkish nationals in exchange for the release of Lebanese held in Syria.
Relatives of the Lebanese who were abducted on May 22 of last year by Syrian rebels in the Aleppo district of Azaz had repeatedly asked Turkey to help secure the release of their loved ones, given Ankara's staunch support of the Syrian opposition.
The nine Lebanese Shiites who were on their way home from a pilgrimage in Iran at the time of their abduction were released Saturday after the Syrian government agreed to the kidnappers' demand to free over 100 female detainees in Syrian prisons.
Head of Lebanon's General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim had negotiated with the Syrian and Turkish sides as part of the mediation efforts to secure the pilgrims' release. However, it was only after Qatar said it would intervene in the matter that the Lebanese were freed.
The two pilots arrived at the Beirut airport at 9 p.m. on board a Lebanese Army helicopter that took off from the Riyaq military air base in the Bekaa Valley, east Lebanon.
Agca and Akpinar were met upon arrival in Beirut by Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz and Lebanon's caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, representing President Michel Sleiman, before boarding a plane headed to Istanbul.
In Istanbul, the pair was later greeted by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Akpinar told reporters in Turkey, that the Lebanese kidnappers had changed their location every three to four days around 3 a.m. using several vehicles.
He also thanked Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu for their efforts, saying: "We know that our president [met with] our families and listened to them. Each Turkish citizen knows he's not alone there if something happens to him."
"When we asked them why they kidnapped us, they told us that their families were kidnapped. First days were a bit constrained, we even went to the toilets under the control of weapons. However we did not face any violence. We followed the news through 'Turkey's Voice Radio.' We are happy to be released," Akpinar said.
Agca, who began working at Turkish Airlines just six months ago, said he and Akpinar supported each other during their time in captivity.
Copyright 2013 - The Daily Star, Beirut, Lebanon
The MD-83 crashed on a rocky mountain shortly before it was due to land in southwest Turkey early Friday.
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