101 days of captivity end for 49 captives after intel agency operation
The released hostages arrived back in Turkey, where they were greeted by their families at the airport.Some 101 days in captivity for Turkey’s consul general in Mosul and 48 others at the hands of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization finished with a happy ending on Sept. 20, following the Turkish intelligence agency’s intense work and a secret operation.
The statement heralding the news that Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz and other hostages had been brought to Turkey after they have been freed was issued by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu at 6.10 a.m. Turkish local time.
“We have taken our citizens and brought them back to our country,” Davutoğlu told reporters in a short press conference in Baku, where he was conducting a visit before departing to Şanlıurfa, a city near the border with Syria, to meet the freed hostages. He added that the Turkish captives crossed into Turkey at 5 a.m. through the Akçakale border gate.
Some 46 Turkish citizens and three Iraqi staff were kidnapped on June 11 by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) after the militants seized control of all of Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city. Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) was heavily involved in following the kidnapping and never lost connection with Yılmaz, who was occasionally able to communicate with Turkish officials via mobile phone.
A more comprehensive statement about the release of the Turkish hostages came from the presidency early on Sept. 20. “Our consul general in Mosul, his family and Turkish citizens at the consulate who had been abducted have been freed in a successful operation,” President Rdecep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a written statement, announcing the news to the public.
“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,” the statement added. “Our National Intelligence Organization [MİT] has followed the issue with patience and dedication, and finally performed a successful rescue operation."
According to sources, the operation was not a military one and there were no clashes with ISIL militants. It was rather based on negotiations with local authorities in Iraq that bore fruit late on Sept. 19. Sources denied the involvement of any other country’s intelligence organization and said no ransom money had been paid.
Davutoğlu meets hostages in Şanlıurfa
As the hostages crossed the border into Turkey through the Akçakale border gate, they were transported to Şanlıurfa Airport by two buses where they met Davutoğlu, whose plane landed at the same airport. After a brief meeting at the airport, Davutoğlu’s plane took off for Ankara Esenboğa Airport along with freed personnel of the consul general and their families.
The one-hour flight from Şanlıurfa to Ankara witnessed emotional moments as Davutoğlu thanked them all for their dignity and patience in waiting to be rescued by the state. The prime minister and his wife, Sare Davutoğlu, gave each of the hostages a red rose and hugged the two babies, 11-month-old Deniz and 8-month-old Ela, who had been kept hostage along with their parents.
As the news broke that the Turkish hostages were freed, more than 1,000 people flocked to Esenboğa Airport to greet the freed hostages along with the families of the kidnapped.
Yılmaz: We never lost hope
In his first statement to the press, Yılmaz thanked MİT and its undersecretary, Hakan Fidan, along with other officials for their efforts to save the 49.
“Yesterday was my birthday. I had wished that, God willing, I would have celebrated it in Turkey,” he said. “After we began our travel to Turkey, I called our prime minister. Even before I told him that we had arrived, he welcomed me. We stand on our feet. We never lost our hope ... There is not a pain one cannot stand for his or her country. I have never felt sorry. I will always carry this experience in my very being, proudly.”
Davutoğlu addresses crowd
As the hostages were reunited with their families, Davutoğlu delivered a speech to those gathered at the airport.
“My brother Öztürk - who at the same time is my colleague - and his staff waited in dignity and strength. They did not bow their heads; they stood up straight. In full conscience of what they represent, they always trusted in their state and the people who stood behind them. Today, they are with us. This is the last day of a patient and honorable waiting. I thank them all; I hug them on behalf of you. I kiss them on their forehead,” Davutoğlu said.
His speech was also a reaction against the opposition parties who strongly criticized the government for its allegedly incorrect policies that led to the kidnapping. Calling them “provocateurs,” Davutoğlu said: “I know those who forced us to make statements on this issue just to show their opposition and at the expense of endangering the lives of these people. I call on them: At least today come and share this happiness. Leave speculation behind.”
Kılıçdaroğlu calls Davutoğlu
Right after Davutoğlu’s statement, the office of the prime ministry announced that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), phoned the prime minister to congratulate his government on the rescue. According to the office of the prime ministry, Kılıçdaroğlu thanked everyone for their efforts to this end. In return, Davutoğlu thanked Kılıçdaroğlu for calling him to extend his congratulatory message and emphasized the need to be “one and together and to share the happiness of the nation.”
The main opposition also issued a written statement. “I say welcome to freedom and to your country to our brothers and citizens who were liberated after being held hostage for 101 days in the hands of the terror organization ISIL,” the CHP said. “I am very happy our hostages were liberated in safety without any loss.”
Former President Abdullah Gül, the Foreign Ministry and the Chief of the General Staff also issued statements welcoming the release of the hostages.