2 Turkish pilots freed in Lebanon: state news agency

Two Turkish Airlines pilots kidnapped in Beirut in August were freed on Saturday and handed over to Lebanese authorities, the official news agency NNA said.

Their release came after nine Lebanese Shiites abducted by rebels in Syria 17 months ago were transferred to Turkey on Friday and handed to Lebanese officials in Istanbul.

"The two pilots have been released and are now in the hands of the Lebanese General Security Service in Beirut," NNA said.

Pilot Murat Akpinar and co-pilot Murat Agca were abducted on August 9 by a group calling itself Zuwwar Imam al-Rida, which demanded Turkey use its influence with Syrian rebels to secure the release of the nine Shiites.

Relatives of the Shiites have repeatedly denied responsibility for kidnapping the pilots, who were seized just outside the international airport.

Sources close to the negotiations which led to the releases said the Turkish pilots and the Lebanese Shiites were expected to return home later on Saturday.