Dozens of Turkish hostages freed
ANKARA // Dozens of Turkish hostages seized by the militant group ISIL in Iraq were freed on Saturday, resolving a serious crisis that Turkish officials had long cited as a reason to avoid moving aggressively against the violent militant group.
The 49 hostages were captured from the Turkish consulate in Mosul on June 11, when ISIL overran the city in its surge to seize large swathes of Iraq and Syria. But the circumstances of their release — which drew flag-waving crowds to the Turkish capital’s airport — were clouded in mystery.
Turkish leaders gave only limited details of the release and the hostages declined to answer all but the most general questions from journalists when they arrived at Ankara airport on Saturday.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported no ransom had been paid and “no conditions were accepted in return for their release”.
Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the release was the result of the intelligence agency’s “own methods”, and not a special forces operation, but he didn’t elaborate.
“After intense efforts that lasted days and weeks, in the early hours, our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back to our country,” Mr Davutoglu said.
Families broke through security lines and rushed towards the plane to greet loved ones as they descended the stairs of Mr Davutoglu’s plane, whose arrival at Ankara’s airport was broadcast live on Turkish television.
Hostages quizzed by journalists as they emerged from the plane said they couldn’t go into detail as to the nature of their ordeal, but a couple of them hinted at ill treatment and death threats.
Ex-hostage Alptekin Esirgun told Anadolou that militants held a gun to consul general Ozturk Yilmaz’s head and tried to force him to make a statement.
Another, Alparslan Yel, said that the militants “treated us a little better because we are Muslims. But we weren’t that comfortable. There was a war going on.”
Turkey had been reluctant to join a coalition to defeat ISIL, citing the safety of its 49 kidnapped citizens, but Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, doubted Turkey would suddenly adopt a much more muscular attitude towards the organisation. Turkey might feel freer to advertise its existing efforts against the group, he said, citing its efforts to control oil smuggling across the border. But he said Turkey would not open its airbases to US aircraft operating against the group.
“There will be some changes, but not as much as people hope,” he said.
Meanwhile, the successful operation was likely to prove a boon to Turkey’s government. During an impassioned speech following his flight’s arrival in Ankara, Mr Davutoglu, flanked by Mr Yilmaz and others, took the opportunity to highlight Turkey’s success and blast the political opposition. Mr Davutoglu thanked the “nameless heroes” who were involved in the release.
Mr Yilmaz, the freed consul general, thanked Turkish officials involved in his release but did not give details about their captivity or how they were freed.
He refused to take more questions, saying: “I haven’t seen my family for 102 days. All I want to do is to go home with them.”
It wasn’t clear where the release took place, but the Anadolu Agency said the hostages had been held in eight separate addresses in Mosul. Their whereabouts were monitored by drones and other means, it said.
Meanwhile, at least 300 Kurdish fighters crossed from Turkey into Syria overnight to battle ISIL militants trying to seize a strategic border town, a monitor said on Saturday.
The reinforcements arrived as Kurdish officials and the Syrian opposition urged the international community to prevent the “ethnic cleansing” of the strategic town of Ain Al Arab, known by the Kurds as Kobane.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Kurdish fighters had joined the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in their fight against ISIL.
The militant organisation has been fighting since Tuesday night to try to capture Ain Al Arab, and has seized 60 villages in the area.
The fighting has prompted a mass exodus into Turkey, which opened its border on Friday to fleeing Kurds and has since received 45,000 people, according to officials.
* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse
Published: September 20, 2014 04:00 AM