Lebanese army frees four Syrian hostages

BEIRUT— Lebanese security forces freed four Syrian hostages on Tuesday in a raid on a powerful Shia Muslim clan, which kidnapped more than 20 people last month.

The four told a Lebanese television station they had been tortured when they were held by the armed wing of the Meqdad clan and were forced to confess they were rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

They were among more than 20 Syrian men, as well as a Turkish businessman, abducted in the Lebanese capital of Beirut in mid-August.

The clan said its abductions were in response to the capture of one of its kinsmen by Syrian rebels trying to topple Assad.

The clan later released all but the four Syrians and the Turk, who the Meqdad family spokesman Maher Meqdad said was shot and wounded in the raid and is now the only hostage left.

The army said it had freed the four in a midnight raid in a southern suburb of the capital controlled by the powerful Shia guerrilla group Hizbullah, a longtime ally of Assad in Lebanon. Critics had accused the group of tolerating or authorizing the abductions.

"The army leadership is intent on continuing its raids and imposing the rule of law," the army statement said. "It will not back away from these measures until it has caught all those involved and freed all the hostages."

The kidnapping of foreigners has become a growing concern in Lebanon, which is concerned about a possible spillover of sectarian violence from the revolt in neighboring Syria.

The tensions have provoked sporadic clashes in northern Lebanon between pro- and anti-Assad factions that have already killed dozens.

The four Syrians told the MTV Lebanon news channel they had been tortured and forced to confess on the regional news channel Al Mayadeen, which is based in Lebanon.

"I was forced by threats to say I was in the FSA, that I was a captain … I have nothing to do with this, I'm just a shop worker here to support my wife and kids," one said, referring to the Free Syrian Army.

Another freed hostage, who gave his name as Mohammed, said he was beaten, electrocuted, and placed in a coffin in episodes of torture that lasted 15 days.

"I was put on Al Mayadeen and they made me say things I shouldn't have," he told MTV Lebanon.

"They wanted me to say I am revolting against Assad's apostate army and the Alawites and Shia. They made me say it and then they believed it. But I reject all of this."

Sami Kleib, head of news for Al Mayadeen, said his correspondent was not complicit in the forced confession but was taken to the scene blindfolded, told he could film for just three minutes and could not ask his own questions.

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