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Turkish Airlines pilots kidnapped in Lebanon, held for hostages

Armed men kidnapped two Turkish Airlines pilots on Friday morning from a bus carrying several other crew members and passengers between Beirut's airport and a hotel.

Turkish pilots kidnapped LebanonEnlarge
Lebanese army troops patrol the airport road on the southern outskirts of Beirut on August 9, 2013, following the kidnapping by gunmen early in the morning of two pilots working for Turkish Airlines on the road leading to the airport, according to Lebanon's Interior Minister Marwan Charbel. Portrait on Amal movement billboard shows Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Shia movement. (ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images)

Armed men kidnapped two Turkish Airlines pilots on Friday morning from a bus carrying crew members and passengers between Beirut's Rafiq Hariri International Airport and a hotel.

Turkish Airlines identified the pilots as Turkish nationals Murat Agca and Murat Akpinar.

"We would like to express our deepest concern for our kidnapped pilots and hope for their immediate release. As a global airline that flies to 237 destinations, we bring citizens of the world together from all religions, ethnicities and countries without any discrimination," the airline said in a statement. "Turkish Airlines has no affiliation with any political organizations and are deeply saddened by this incident. We would like to reiterate our dedication to the well-being of our passengers and employees and our thoughts are with the families of the pilots during this difficult time."

Both Lebanon's interior minister and Turkey's ambassador to Lebanon confirmed the abduction in separate statements.

It's believed the abduction is related to nine Lebanese hostages being held inside Syria.

More from GlobalPost: The new business of Lebanon: kidnapping

"A kidnapping operation took place at 3:00 am targeting a bus carrying several members of a Turkish Airlines crew going from the airport to the hotel," said Lebanon's interior minister, Marwan Charbel. "Gunmen kidnapped two passengers from the bus, the pilot and co-pilot."

Reports on the number of gunmen involved in the attack varied from four to eight.

Other airline employees who were on the bus during the kidnapping made it safely to their hotel and were set to head back to Turkey later on Friday.

Lebanon's foreign ministry said an investigation is underway.

There is now a heavy police presence in the area where the incident occurred and sections of the airport road have been closed.

A group calling itself Zuwar al-Imam Rida has reportedly claimed responsibility, the Guardian reported. They said the pilots would be freed in exchange for the hostages, who were kidnapped by Syrian rebels while trying to return home from a pilgrimage to Iran 15 months ago.

Family members of the hostages celebrated upon hearing the news, but denied involvement, BBC said.

Turkey supports Syria's Sunni rebels, while most of Lebanon's Shia community is known to back the Assad regime.

More from GlobalPost: Syrian government denies reports that rebels bombed Assad's motorcade

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/lebanon/130809/turkish-airlines-pilots-kidnapped-lebanon