Thousands of angry mourners on Wednesday buried a Lebanese soldier beheaded by Islamic militants after an emotional funeral march, accusing the government of neglect for failing to negotiate his release.
The furor over the gruesome death of Sgt. Ali Sayid, 29, came as the government races to try free around two dozen more members of the country's security forces who remain held captive by Syria-based militants, including the extremist Islamic State group.
"He was betrayed by all the politicians, all of them! By parliamentarians and officials, and by the country. He was sold for a cheap price!" Sayid's uncle, Ahmad Sayid, shouted during the funeral, in a tearful speech carried on Lebanese television.
As he spoke, mourners fired guns in the air, packing the main street of his impoverished northern Lebanese hometown of Fnaydek. They jostled to help to carry the coffin, wrapped in a Lebanese flag. Mourners rocked the coffin side-by-side, a Lebanese tradition that acknowledges the youth of the dead person, as they marched below a large banner of Sayid.
Sayid, a Sunni, went missing as militants from Syria overran the border town of Arsal for several days in August, kidnapping and killing soldiers and police. The incursion was the most serious spillover yet of the neighboring Syrian civil war. The militants included the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, both of whom are holding captives.
Sayid surfaced in a video later announcing his defection from the army and his loyalty to the Islamic State group, but he may have spoken under duress. Later, another video surfaced of Sayid being decapitated by militants of the Islamic State group, according to photos posted on social networks on Aug. 28.
Families have demonstrated throughout Lebanon demanding the captives' release, blocking roads and setting up protest tents. There are an estimated 14 policemen and 12 soldiers still in militant custody, according to a count by rights group Human Rights Watch. At least ten of the soldiers are being held by the Islamic State group, said a Sunni Muslim cleric previously involved in negotiations to release the men.
Islamic State group has swept through northern and western Iraq from its stronghold in neighboring Syria. It follows an ultra-conservative, violent interpretation of Islam and has been accused by rights groups and the United Nations of committing war crimes, including the mass killings of soldiers, Shiite Muslims and followers of the ancient Yazidi faith in Iraq. On Tuesday, the group released a video that showed an Islamic State fighter beheading captive U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff.
To try halt their spread, the U.S. has conducted airstrikes in northern Iraq and shipped new weapons to Lebanon's military, including automatic rifles, mortars and anti-tank artillery.
The soldiers' captivity threatens to erode the Lebanese military's moral, analysts say.
"Subjugating the soldiers to a terrifying destiny without the military institution being able to protect its own, or to negotiate a safe passage for their release, undermines the credibility of the institution, and undermines the general morale of its soldiers," Lebanese political scientist Imad Salamey said.
Hadid reported from Beirut.