Hostages seized by the terrorist group, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the Turkish consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul have been freed and are back in Turkey.
The 49 released hostages received a resounding welcome from a huge crowd in Ankara after arriving in southern Turkey early on Saturday, September 20, 2014.
The hostages were abducted in June 2014 after ISIS militants overran Mosul in a rapid advance.
The Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey’s intelligence agency had led the operation, but gave few details.
BBC reports that Turkey has refused direct involvement in the military campaign against IS partly because of fears over the hostages’ safety.
The 49 were employees from the consulate – 46 Turks and three local Iraqis – officials said. They included diplomatic staff, children, and special forces police.
Davutoglu described their release as “joyful news”.
“In the early hours [of Saturday] our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back to our country,” he said.
They were all in good health, he added.
Davutoglu flew to Sanliurfa in southern Turkey, where the hostages had arrived, and brought them back to the capital Ankara on his plane.
There were emotional scenes at Esenboga airport as the hostages were reunited with their loved ones.
Davutoglu gave few details of the operation to release them but broadcaster NTV said a ransom had not been paid. It did not say how it obtained the information.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also gave little away, saying in a statement: “I thank the prime minister and his colleagues for this carefully planned, detailed and secret operation, which continued all night and was successfully completed early in the morning.”
Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, quoting sources, said there had been no clashes with militants and the operation was based on negotiations.
Reuters, also quoting sources, said the hostages had been released overnight in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad near the Turkish border after being transferred from the Syrian city of Raqqa, an IS stronghold.