TEK and “freeing” the Hungarian hostages in Syria
At the Tranzit Fesztivál in Kőszeg Brigadier-General János Hajdú, head of the new Anti-Terror Unit or TEK, received a telephone call in the middle of a round table discussion. He got the news that the three Hungarians who had been taken hostage by anti-government forces in Syria had just been released. The youngsters who were present applauded mightily at this latest triumph of TEK.
But let’s start at the beginning. On August 13 in Damascus, sometime between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m., armed men stopped a car in which three Hungarians and three Syrians were traveling. The Hungarians were about forty years old; they were all once policemen who took early retirement. Who were these men and what on earth were they were doing in Syria?
Although the three already arrived in Hungary yesterday, we still don’t know much about either the men or the purpose of their stay in Damascus. On August 22 HVG managed to get some information about them. Apparently all three were involved with dog training and worked for an outfit called Brave Dog Bt. The word was that they were invited to train dogs in Syria. The reporters of HVG, however, didn’t quite believe this dog story and wondered whether perhaps the three men were actually working for the Syrian government.
Foreign Minister János Martonyi also had no clue what the former policemen were doing in Damascus, or at least he vigorously denied in an interview with Inforádió that the Hungarian government had anything to do with whatever the captured Hungarians were doing in Syria. He added, however, that “if that were the case the Hungarian government must thank the opposition forces for releasing the captives.” An unusual response.
Now to the details of the release of the captives. Since August 25 the story of TEK’s involvement in the release of the three Hungarians and three Syrians has gone through several transformations. First, we heard from János Hajdú, who is prone to self-aggrandizement, that “we arrived at the end of a two-week-long intensive secret service operation executed with clock-like precision that resulted in our freeing the captives. There was no ransom and the captives have been freed uninjured.” He added that the freed men will be “under TEK’s control [fennhatóság].” Hajdú claimed that from the very beginning they knew exactly who the kidnappers were, and he gave the impression that TEK operatives had been in constant touch with the rebels on the spot. However, in the same interview, talking about two other Hungarians taken captive in Syria in April, he had to admit that it is almost impossible to get information about the whereabouts of the two captives because of the chaotic circumstances in Syria. If this is the case, it is truly remarkable that within days TEK operatives managed to contact the particular rebel group that allegedly held the Hungarians hostage.
A day later the tone changed a bit. The “secret service operation” phrase was left out from Hajdú’s many interviews about this latest success of TEK. The word “control” was also changed to “supervision” (felügyelet). Then more details emerged that made TEK’s exploits in Damascus less glamorous. By yesterday it became clear that no weapons were involved in the hostages’ release. Soon more details emerged from an interview with Zsolt Bodnár, the number two man at TEK. The group that captured the men let them go on August 23 and the captured men found shelter with government forces. Bodnár read a letter from the rebels that included the following: “On August 13 during an operation against the resisting military units we captured a special unit that belonged to the regime. Later it turned out that three experts among them were Hungarian citizens.” From this I must conclude that the Hungarians were actually working for the Syrian government, and I’m surprised that the Hungarian media somehow missed this crucial sentence.
The release of the captured Hungarians became even more interesting when Blikk learned that the rebels simply handed the Hungarians the keys to their cells while they themselves left the area. So the most likely explanation for their release is that government forces were getting close to this particular anti-government group’s headquarters which they had to abandon. Holding hostages under these circumstances didn’t seem feasible.
In brief, János Hajdú was greatly exaggerating if not worse when he boasted about the “secret service operation” that was performed with such precision. It also eventually became known that TEK received information about the particular rebel group from the Foreign Ministry and other diplomatic sources.
Yesterday Ágnes Vadai (DK), former undersecretary of the Ministry of Defense and until recently chairman of the Committee on National Security, expressed her misgivings about Hajdú’s constant media interviews. She also pointed out that parading the former hostages in a press conference before debriefing is really unheard of. It is simply not professional behavior. Jenő Veress of Népszava also criticized Hajdú for playing politics when the military and the police are supposed to be politically neutral. László Seres of HVG found the story of the dog trainers in Syria highly unlikely.
It seems that it was not only Jenő Veress, a reporter for a social democratic paper, who found Hajdú’s uniformed presence at the pro-Fidesz Tranzit Fesztivál unbecoming a member of the police force. Jobbik was also outraged. Ádám Mirkóczki (Jobbik), a member of the parliamentary Committee on National Security, demanded an extraordinary meeting of the committee to hear what Interior Minister Sándor Pintér and János Hajdú had to say about the latter’s presence in Kőszeg. Mirkóczki wants to know whether Hajdú had Pintér’s permission “to attend a political meeting in uniform and to express his political views there.” Hajdú, in addition to boasting about the events in Damascus, also called Jobbik “a problem that can be handled.” The Jobbik politician called Hajdú’s speech at the festival “the Őszöd speech of Viktor Orbán’s personal bodyguard.” Fidesz’s answer via Zsolt Csampa, a member of parliament, was weak. Why criticize such a fantastic outfit? Not quite enough. Jobbik has a point, just as Jenő Veress does.
Hajdú works hard to justify the existence of his thousand-man force. But even as he spins a Háry János-like tale about his operatives’ Damascus derring-do (not quite anti-terror but at least with a Middle East component) he reinforces the commonly held notion that he is, in fact, the head of the prime minister’s security force/private army.