SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) Forty-six Turks held hostage for months by Islamic State jihadists in northern Iraq were freed and returned to Turkey on Saturday, to emotional family reunions and a triumphant Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
The Turkish diplomats and their children were seized along with special forces officers in their consulate in the city of Mosul on June 11 as IS militants overran whole swathes of northern Iraq.
Davutoglu announced their liberation and cut short a visit to Azerbaijan to greet the ex-hostages. He gave no details of the circumstances of their release, though other officials and media reports spoke of a “secret operation”.
“Early in the morning our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back into our country,” Davutoglu told reporters before leaving the Azerbaijani capital Baku.
Ankara said three of the consulate’s Iraqi staff had been released earlier by the militants.
Turkey’s intelligence agency, armed forces and police had worked to secure the hostages’ freedom, Davutoglu said after going to meet them in the city of Sanliurfa near the Iraqi border and flying on with them to the Turkish capital Ankara.
“There are unnamed heroes, like those who brought our citizens back to Turkey. They acted for the sake of our country, for the sake of our people. I salute them,” the prime minister told a cheering crowd of supporters waving Turkish flags as he stood atop a bus at Ankara’s airport.
He kissed one of the freed hostages, consul-general Ozturk Yilmaz, on the forehead, after saying the hostages had “stood strong” and unbowed during their captivity.
Yilmaz said: “I am proud of what I have gone through for my country.” He added that he “never lost hope” and was “very happy” to be back in Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish authorities had carried out a “pre-planned, detailed and secret operation”.