BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen on Friday ambushed a van carrying a Turkish Airlines crew in the Lebanese capital and kidnapped two of its members, a pilot and a co-pilot, security officials said.
According to the officials, six gunmen ambushed the vehicle on an old airport road in Beirut, snatched the two men, both Turkish nationals, and let the rest continue on.
The van was travelling between the Rafik Hariri International Airport to a hotel in Beirut when the ambush took place early on Friday, said the Lebanese officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Although there was no claim of responsibility for the ambush or a demand for ransom, the incident is likely related to the civil war in neighboring Syria, which has deeply divided the Lebanese. The Syrian rebels, who are backed by Turkey, have been holding nine Lebanese Shiites hostage since last year.
The Turkish crew had landed a Turkish Airlines plane with 144 passengers on board, the Lebanese officials told The Associated Press. The flight number 828 from Istanbul to Beirut landed at 3:30 a.m. (0030 GMT), they said.
Authorities were investigating and the road where the kidnapping occurred has been closed off with several police checkpoints, the officials added.
Lebanon's state National News Agency reported that the driver of the van was being questioned and that eight gunmen were involved in the abduction. The difference in the number of the attackers in the report and the Lebanese officials' account could not immediately be explained. The report said the Turkish crew had six members in all.
In Turkey, Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu confirmed the kidnapping and said the rest of the crew was still in Beirut but expected to return to Turkey on Friday evening.
"We don't know who did this and for what purpose," Gumrukcu said, adding that the Turkish government was in close contact with Lebanese officials over the case.
Turkey supports the Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which is dominated by Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.
The Lebanese are deeply divided over Syria's civil war, with Shiites largely supporting the regime in Damascus and Sunnis backing the rebels. Both Sunni militants, and fighters from Lebanon's dominant Shiite Hezbollah group, have been fighting on opposite sides in the conflict.
The conflict in Syria that has claimed more than 100,000 lives since it erupted in March 2011. The fighting has frequently spilled into Lebanon.
Associated Press writer Desmond Butler in Istanbul contributed to this report.