Al-Qaeda ‘frees’ Lebanese soldiers in prisoner swap
A prisoner exchange has gone underway for the release of Lebanese soldiers held by Al-Nusra Front, Al Arabiya News Channel reported on Sunday.
It is not yet clear which prisoners have been exchanged for the troops.
Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, has held 16 Lebanese soldiers and policemen hostage for more than a year.
In July, the group offered to release three Lebanese soldiers in exchange for an ex-wife of the leader of the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and four other female prisoners.
“If five of our sisters leave prison… we will hand over three soldiers in exchange,” said Abu Malek al-Shami, Al-Nusra’s “emir” in the Syrian region of Qalamun bordering Lebanon.
ISIS is believed to have nine other Lebanese troops held as hostages.
Since their capture, Al-Nusra has repeatedly made demands for the soldiers’ release, seeking the release of Islamist prisoners or the withdrawal of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement from the Syrian conflict.
The powerful Shiite militia, which is backed by Iran, is fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war that has claimed more than 230,000 lives since it erupted in 2011.