The Lebanese authorities should investigate and prosecute those responsible for the reported kidnapping of dozens of Syrian nationals and a Turkish man on August 15, 2012. Members of the al-Meqdad extended family in Lebanon claimed responsibility for some of the kidnappings on national TV, calling them a retaliation for the kidnapping of one of their relatives, Hassan al-Meqdad, a Lebanese national, in Syria on August 13 by a group that claimed to be part of the opposition Free Syrian Army.
Lebanese authorities have made no arrests concerning the recent kidnappings or other retaliatory attacks by private citizens against Syrian citizens in Lebanon during the last several months. Human Rights Watch interviewed Free Syrian Army representatives and a representative of a group involved in negotiating the release of the kidnapped in Lebanon, as well as people involved in similar tit-for-tat kidnappings and other types of abuse earlier this summer.
“A crime can never justify another crime, as much as we can understand the anguish of Lebanese families whose loved ones have been kidnapped,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Lebanese authorities need to enforce the law and end impunity for kidnappings and other violent acts carried out against Syrian citizens in the name of reprisal.”
This is not the first instance of apparent retaliation against Syrians in Lebanon for crimes committed against Lebanese in Syria since the beginning of anti-government protests in that country in 2011. Following the reported kidnapping by an armed opposition group in Azaz, Aleppo of 11 Lebanese Shiites on a pilgrimage bus in Aleppo province in Syria on May 22, a number of Syrians were assaulted in various parts of Lebanon. Media reports indicate that, as a result of this violence, a large number of Syrians fled Lebanon. As far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine, the Lebanese authorities have not conducted investigations, arrested, or prosecuted anyone for these crimes.
The parties in Lebanon and Syria who have been involved in these kidnappings should release everyone they are holding, Human Rights Watch said.
In a video posted on YouTube on August 13, a group that said it was part of the Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of al-Meqdad in Damascus, Syria. In an interview with Human Rights Watch on August 16, an individual identifying himself as a Free Syrian Army political consultant, Bassam al-Dada, confirmed that al-Meqdad was in the custody of the group. However, Fahd al-Masri, a press officer for the group, denied to the news media that it was responsible for the kidnapping. In an interview with Human Rights Watch on August 17, al-Masri said that the Free Syrian Army “denies any involvement in the kidnapping of Hassan al-Meqad. We refuse any sort of kidnapping because it is outside of the law.”
The group responsible for the kidnapping of al-Meqdad should immediately release him, Human Rights Watch said, and the Free Syrian Army should reiterate its opposition to kidnappings and any other unlawful detention under any circumstances by any forces under its command.
Saying they were acting in retaliation for al-Meqdad’s kidnapping, members of the extended al-Meqdad family, identifying themselves as the “armed wing” of the clan, claimed responsibility for kidnapping Syrian nationals as well a Turkish man, Aydin Tufan, on August 15. Maher al-Meqdad, the spokesman for the al-Meqdad family, a powerful clan from Baalbak, Lebanon, told reporters that the Syrians they were holding are Free Syrian Army members and that the al-Meqdads had freed Syrians they seized who were not members of the group.
According to the National News Agency, on August 15, Hatem al-Meqdad, Hassan al-Meqdad’s brother, said that his family kidnapped 26 Syrians and that four were released. The National News Agency also reported Maher al-Meqdad’s announcement on August 16 that the al-Meqdad family had stopped its kidnapping operations as they had a “sufficient number of Free Syrian Army supporters” and a Turkish citizen in their custody.
In a televised statement on August 16, a representative of he Mukhtar al-Thaqafi group, a previously unknown group apparently formed in response to the kidnapping of 11 Shiite Lebanese in Syria on May 22, said that they have also conducted retaliatory kidnappings and that they would kidnap any Syrian supporting the opposition or the Free Syrian Army but that they were freeing people not supporting or linked to the group. Interviews with some of their captives, while still in custody, have aired on local news stations. Ali Aqil Khalil, a representative of the International Organization for Human Rights, a local group who is involved in the hostage negotiations with the al-Meqdad family, spoke with Human Rights Watch on August 16. He said that that one of the detained Syrians had been released the day before, but that as far as he knew approximately 50 people remained in custody in Lebanon as a result of the al-Meqdad kidnapping in Syria.
Al-Dada, the self-described political consultant to the Free Syrian Army, told Human Rights Watch on August 16 that to his knowledge more than 30 Syrians had been kidnapped in Lebanon in retaliation for Hassan al-Meqdad, and that none of them were members of his group.
Human Rights Watch has not confirmed how many of the kidnapped remain in custody.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said that the government is working to negotiate the release of the Lebanese hostages held in Syria, including Hassan al-Meqdad. Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said on August 16 that the cabinet had agreed on the need to pursue arrests against those responsible for the kidnappings in Lebanon, the National News Agency reported. But the Lebanese authorities have not announced any concrete measures against the kidnappers.
“The Lebanese authorities need to act to stop the kidnappings of Syrians and attacks against them in Lebanon by holding those responsible to account regardless of their motives,” Houry said. “If the authorities don’t uphold the law, rogue actors will continue to commit crimes in the name of retaliation.”