DOZENS of Turkish hostages seized by the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq were freed yesterday, resolving a crisis which Turkey had long cited as a reason to avoid moving against the violent militant group.
The 49 hostages were captured from the Turkish Consulate in Mosul, Iraq, on 11 June, when the IS overran the city in its surge to seize large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
But the circumstances of their release – which drew flag-waving crowds to the Turkish capital’s airport – were shrouded in mystery.
Turkish leaders gave only limited details of the release and the hostages declined to answer all but the most general questions when they arrived at Ankara airport at around midday yesterday.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported no ransom had been paid and “no conditions were accepted in return for their release” but did not cite any source for its reporting.
“It’s fair to say that we haven’t been told the full story,” said Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, who has studied Turkey’s security policy.
The Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said the release was the result of the intelligence agency’s “own methods”, and not a special forces operations.
Families broke through security lines and rushed towards the aircraft to greet their loved ones as they descended the stairs of Davutoglu’s plane, whose arrival at Ankara’s airport was broadcast live on Turkish TV.
The joyous scene at the airport contrasts with the recent beheadings of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and Scottish aid worker David Haines by the Islamic State group.
Hostages interviewed by journalists as they emerged from the plane said they could not go into detail as to the nature of their ordeal, but several hinted at ill-treatment and death threats.
Ex-hostage Alptekin Esirgun said 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 the Islamic militants “treated us a little better because we are Muslims. But we weren’t that comfortable. There was a war going on.”
Despite the hostages’ release, Stein said he thought it unlikely that Turkey will open its air bases to US aircraft operating against IS.