Ibrahim says case of abducted bishops more complicated


BEIRUT: General Security chief Maj.  Gen. Abbas Ibrahim  said Tuesday he knew the  whereabouts of the two bishops kidnapped in Syria  last April, describing their case as more  complicated than that of the recently released Lebanese pilgrims.

“About a month ago, I contacted an individual who told me where the bishops  Paul Yazigi  and Yohanna Ibrahim are [being held],  and based on this, I began negotiations [to win their release],” Ibrahim  said.

Ibrahim made his remarks during a series of regular meetings with General  Security officers, according to a statement from the agency.

“We are now indirectly in contact with the kidnappers, and that is a major  development that we will use as a starting  point to reach our desired results,” he added, saying his agency’s most  important task today was to secure the release of the bishops.

But Ibrahim did not specify a time frame for the release of the two  prelates.

Yazigi, Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop and Ibrahim, the Syriac Orthodox  Archbishop, were abducted in April by armed  men near the Turkish border with Syria.

The release of nine Lebanese hostages held by Syrian rebels for 17 months  earlier in October boosted hopes that the return of the bishops would be  imminent. Ibrahim negotiated the release of the captives on behalf of the  government.

They were kidnapped in the Azaz district  of Aleppo  in May 2012 returning from a pilgrimage to  Iran. They were released as part of a swap for two Turkish pilots kidnapped in  Lebanon in August and a number of Syrian female detainees held by Damascus.

Last week, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamid al-Thani  vowed to exert efforts  to help secure the bishops’ release during talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai  and Ibrahim in Doha. Qatar  mediated the release of the Lebanese.

Ibrahim said the circumstances of the bishops’ abduction were more complex  than those of the Azaz hostages.

Ibrahim said the kidnappers of the pilgrims were known because they had  appeared on television. This had placed the rebels in a difficult position, the  General Security chief said.

“We knew who we were negotiating with. The kidnappers appeared on TV and were  visited by Lebanese journalists. They could not do as they pleased with the  hostages, or they would have been marked as criminals by the local, regional and  international community,” he said.

“But the case of the bishops is different because no one has claimed  responsibility for it yet and [during the abduction] the priest [who was driving  the bishops] was killed immediately to eliminate witnesses,” Ibrahim said,  adding that it took four months to locate the bishops and the party holding  them.

Ibrahim also defended his security agency against criticism that it was  surpassing its mandated responsibilities by looking into abduction cases and  setting up checkpoints.

“We were criticized for setting up checkpoints in the southern suburbs and  the north alongside other security bodies, but I tell you such a task is in line  with our powers even though the Lebanese are not used to that,” he said.

Earlier this month, Gen. Ashraf Rifi, the former head of the Internal  Security Forces, criticized General Security for setting up checkpoints in  Tripoli, saying this was not within the scope of its powers.

Ibrahim said his agency was working based on regulations, saying that General  Security’s duties were “not limited to issuing passports and visas but have  security and political aspects as well.”

While he spoke about the agency’s recent achievements such as dismantling  terrorist cells, Ibrahim stressed that this success was in the interest of all  Lebanese.

“The recent achievements of General Security at all levels … are not  personal, but add to the record of the General Directorate  [of General Security],”  Ibrahim said.

He added that General Security’s achievements served the Lebanese state and  its people, denying allegations that the agency was biased toward a particular  political group.

“I’m a Shiite, I say it openly and I am proud of it. Every one of you should  be proud of his own religion and sect … but it is important that every one of  us places his sect in the service of the nation rather than the nation at the  service of the sect,” Ibrahim said.