Aleppo – The Obama administration said on Tuesday it knew in advance of a trip to Syria by U.S. Senator John McCain, a visit that raised questions over whether the Republican senator met with the kidnappers of a group of Lebanese pilgrims held hostage for the past year.
U.S. officials had little to say about the trip by McCain, an outspoken advocate for U.S. military aid to the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
McCain’s office said his visit was organized by the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a non-profit group that backs the Syrian opposition and is based in the United States. The Republican senator crossed into northern Syria from the country’s border with Turkey on Monday and stayed there several hours in a surprise visit.
McCain saw General Salim Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army coalition of rebel groups, as well as 18 commanders of Free Syrian Army battalions from all of Syria, the SETF website said. Commanders asked for more military aid.
However, a report aired on Lebanese al-Jadeed television identified two of the rebels who met with McCain.
The report by Nawal Berri said that two men seen in pictures with McCain were Abou Youssef and Mohammed Nour, whom she had met when al-Jadeed television crew including herself visited the 11 Lebanese hostages last year.
A group of Lebanese pilgrims were kidnapped in May 2012, and several attempts for their release have so far been unsuccessful.
“We were aware, of course, that Senator McCain was going to make this trip,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “And we look forward to speaking with Senator McCain upon his return to learn more about the trip.”
-Reuters, Al-Akhbar, TAAN