BEIRUT (AP) — Relatives of Lebanese soldiers held hostage by militants burned tires and blocked roads Monday after they said Islamic State group extremists threatened to kill their sons, causing hours of citywide gridlock.
The beheading of U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig, announced by the extremists Sunday, further panicked those protesting.
"Oh God, I have no other son," said a mother of a captive soldier, Aisha Ahmad, weeping, "If they don't release my son, I want to set myself on fire."
The Islamic State group and other militants in Syria seized some 20 Lebanese soldiers and police officers in August during a brief cross-border raid. They already have killed three of the captives, beheading two.
Relatives of the captured men have surrounded the prime minister's office in Beirut with protest tents, demanding the government negotiate faster.
Monday's demonstration began after militants threatened to kill more hostages unless the government revoked sentences handed down to Islamist prisoners Friday night. Four Islamist militants received life sentences, while a fifth was sentenced to death in absentia.
"This decision threatens our children," protester Omar Haidar said. "We will close all Beirut's roads until our children are returned."
They marched onto the city's main plaza, blocking highways, including an east-west route linking Christian and Muslim neighborhoods. It was mostly shuttered during Lebanon's 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.
But the demonstrators, relatives of the captured men, belonged to all of Lebanon's squabbling faiths.
Chain-smoking Marie Khoury, who wore a cross, blocked a road alongside a woman wearing a Muslim headscarf.
"Lebanese soldiers have no sect, they are for the country," Khoury said. But the rare show of communal solidarity meant nothing for Lebanese, she said.
Nearby, a taxi driver directed cars out of the sudden jam.
"They won't get anything from the government," said Ali Saeed, referring to the demonstrators.
Still, he said he had brothers in the army and understood why they protested.
"I would do as they did. What else can you do?" he asked.