As it happened: Turkey’s 49 hostages freed in MİT operation, says President Erdoğan
ŞANLIURFA - ANKARA
TC-TUR, Turkey's new official jet, transported the freed Turks from Şanlıurfa to AnkaraPresident Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced Sept. 20 that the 49 Turkish hostages held by extremist militants in Iraq for 101 days had been freed through an operation conducted by the country’s spy agency.
Öztürk Yılmaz, Turkey's consul general in Mosul, and 48 others who were taken from the consulate were brought to Turkey at 5 a.m. local time, with officials stressing that they were all in good health.
“Our consul general in Mosul, his family and Turkish citizens at the consulate who had been abducted have been freed in a successful operation,” Erdoğan said in a written statement early Sept. 20, announcing the news to the Turkish 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.
Turkey’s consul general and other staff in Mosul had been held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) since June 11.
“Our National Intelligence Agency [MİT] has followed the issue with patience and dedication, and finally performed a successful rescue operation,” the statement added.
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.
Here are the updates as they happened:
13:30 - Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), calls PM Davutoğlu to congratulate the government over the operation in a rare political gesture. (Click here to rest of this story)
13:00 - Another freed hostage said that the captive Turkish diplomat risked his life by resisting the ISIL militants with a gun to his head. (Click here to read the rest of this story)
12:47 - "Certainly, something happened." This was the response of a hostage when he was asked by a CNN Türk reporter if they suffered from torture or maltreatment at the hands of the ISIL militants. Another hostage told Hürriyet Daily News that she will never go back to Iraq. (Click here to read the rest of this story)
12:43 - The freed Turks appeared in front of cameras to meet their families in brand new suits that they were given at a public institution after they arrived in Ankara.
12:40 - Turkey's 11th president Abdullah Gül welcomed the release of hostages and thanked to those who have been involved in these works. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will meet with Turkey's Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz and other consulate personnel on Sept. 21 at 11.30 a.m.
12:23 - "Just like the lives of our citizens here are sacred for us, the lives of all those who fled from Syria and Iraq to Turkey are sacred, regardless of their ethnicity," Turkish PM Davutoğlu says, concluding his address in the airport.
12:17 - "I salute the unnamed heroes, like those who brought our citizens to Turkey. They acted in the name of the nation," Davutoğlu says.
12:05 - PM Davutoğlu is addressing to the people gathered at the airport. "First of all, I thank my brother, Öztürk [Turkey's consul general]. They waited patiently, proudly," he says. After thanking the families of the freed Turks, Turkish PM then slammed his political opponents: "Despite those who don't like the possibility of the release, despite those who engage in actions against Turkey, the families remained calm. Some had even claimed that our government would use the release for political gains before the presidential elections. ... I call them to be happy at least now. It is time to celebrate."
11:43 - Freed consul general Öztürk Yılmaz speaks to Turkish broadcaster CNN Türk in his first statement in Ankara. "Yesterday was my birthday. I had wished that inshallah I would celebrate it in Turkey," he said. "After we began our travel to Turkey, I called our Prime Minister. Before I told him that we arrived in, he told me welcome," he added. "We stand on our feet. We have never lost our hopes... 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."
11:40 - Families of the freed hostages are now meeting their beloved in a highly emotional scene at the airport. Males, who have been clean shaved while working at the consulate, have long beards now, following the long captivity.
11:37 - Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and MİT chief Hakan Fidan are also at Esenboğa Airport to meet PM Davutoğlu and freed hostages. Presidential General-Secretary Fahri Kasırga is also at the airport.
11:32 - During the flight from Şanlıurfa to Ankara, PM Davutoğlu thanked the freed Turks for their "dignified stance," Turkish broadcaster NTV reported.
11:25 - The plane, carrying PM Davutoğlu and the freed Turks, has landed.
11:14 - HDN's Sevil Erkuş, who is currently at Esenboğa Airport, reports that around 1,000 people have so far gathered at the airport, waiting for the landing of Davutoğlu's plane. They were all distributed Turkish flags. Davutoğlu, accompanied by Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz, is expected to hold a press conference at the airport.
11:04 - Crowds brought to the airport by the buses of the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality are gathering at Esenboğa Airport to cheer the release of the Turkish hostages.
10:45 - Şamil Tayyar, a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has claimed that the U.S. intelligence is behind the operation. "One of Turkey's reasons for not joining the [international] operation against ISIL was the hostages. Their release in this critical phase is a move by CIA," he said in a tweet.
10:17 - According to a Turkish intelligence source, the operation that freed the 49 personnel of the Turkish consulate in Mosul from ISIL was carried out by the exterior operations department of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT). (Click here for more details) (Click here for more details)
10:08 Few details regarding Turkey's operation have been reported so far. Stressing that the Turks entered Turkey through the Akçakale border gate, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Sinan Ogan claimed they came via Tel Abyad town, near the ISIL stronghold of Raqqa in Syria. Over a 100 days ago, they were taken captive by the ISIL in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
9:55 - PM Davutoğlu, who is expected to appear before cameras along with consular staff in Ankara soon, was informed about the operation during a visit in Azerbaijan. Here is a photo showing the moment he was briefed on phone:
9:48 - PM Davutoğlu meets the freed Turks, who include two children, at the airport. "Let's go to Ankara and have you meet your families as soon as possible," Davutoğlu told them in a short statement.
8:58 - Şanlırfa Gov. İzzettin Küçük said PM Davutoğlu would give detailed information on the issue in the coming hours.
8:55 - After entering Turkey by bus from Syria, the consular personnel arrived at GAP Airport in the southeastern Turkish province of Şanlıurfa. According to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, 46 Turks have arrived in Turkey. Three other consular personnel were Iraqi citizens and went to their own country, Al Jazeera Turkish reported.
6:10 - The first statement was made by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu who was in Baku for an official visit. At a press conference, Davutoğlu heralded the good news, saying: “Our contacts intensified late in the night (Sept. 19) and they were brought to Turkey at 5 a.m. We have closely followed the developments and we recently informed our president about the situation. This happy incident prepared all of us for a good morning." The prime minister called the hostage crisis one of the most important tests Turkey has faced, adding that were able to succeed in the operation thanks to the hard work of MİT and its chief, Hakan Fidan.