BEIRUT: General Security Chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim said Tuesday he was in contact with the kidnappers of the Syrian bishops through a third party, describing the case of the prelates as more complicated than that of the recently freed Lebanese pilgrims.
“About a month ago, I was able to contact a person who specified the location of the bishops and we began our negotiations on such basis,” Ibrahim said during a series of internal General Security meetings, according to a statement issued by the body's General Directorate.
“We are now indirectly in contact with the kidnappers, and that is a major development which we will use as a starting point to reach desired results,” he added, saying his agency’s most important task today was resolving the case of the bishops.
Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim were abducted in April by armed men near the Turkish border with Syria.
The Qatari emir vowed last week during talks with Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and Ibrahim in Doha to exert efforts to help secure the bishops' release.
Ibrahim, who has been tasked by Lebanon to follow up on the case, said the circumstances surrounding the bishops' abduction were more complex than the those involved in the case of nine Shiite Lebanese pilgrims who were freed earlier this after 17 months in Syrian rebel captivity.
In securing the pilgrims' release, Ibrahim mediated between Turkey, Syria and Qatar. Ibrahim's mediation in the case also secured the freeing of two Turkish Airlines pilots held in Beirut.
With the Lebanese case, Ibrahim said, the kidnappers were known because they had appeared on television stations. This placed the rebels in a difficult position, the General Security chief said.
“We knew who we were negotiating with and the kidnappers could not do as they pleased with the Lebanese due to their appearances on television and interviews with local media,” he said.
“But the case of the bishops is different since nobody has claimed responsibility yet and the priest [who was driving the bishops] was immediately killed to eliminate witnesses [during the abduction],” Ibrahim said, adding that it took him four months to locate the bishops and the party holding them.
Ibrahim also defended his security agency against recent criticism that it has expanded its tasks to include abduction cases as well as operating domestic security checkpoints.
“We were criticized for setting up checkpoints in the southern suburbs and the north, but [the critics] do not know that such a task is part of our prerogative even though it not a task usually carried out by the agency,” Ibrahim said, referring to the participation of General Security personnel in security plans for some areas.
He said the agency was carrying out its role based on regulations and prerogative, saying that General Security’s task is “not exclusive to issuing passports and visas but has security and political aspects as well.”
While he spoke about the agency’s recent achievements, which include discovering terrorist cells, Ibrahim stressed that these successes were in the interest of all Lebanese.
“The recent achievements by the General Security are not personal ones but add to the record of the General Directorate ... the Lebanese state and the Lebanese people with all its components,” he said, denying allegations that the agency is on any particular side.
“I'm a Shiite and proud of that and every one of us should be the same with their own sect, but the most important thing is to place our religion in the service of the nation and not of our particular sect,” Ibrahim added.