İpek Yezdani - Uğur Ergan - Hacer Boyacıoğlu / Hürriyet - Doğan News Agency
A Turkish Airlines plane carrying the drivers landed the airport of the southeastern Turkish province of Şanlıurfa at 9.00 p.m. local time. AA Photo
All 32 Turkish truck drivers held hostage by militants of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq flew back home to Turkey on late July 3 following their release after three weeks in captivity.
Islamic militants have released all the drivers abducted in Iraq 23 days ago. The drivers were transported to Ankara
via Arbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region yesterday.
The truck drivers were kidnapped June 9 in the wake of the militant group’s offensive on the city of Mosul. ISIL also abducted 49 staff members of the Turkish consulate in Mosul on June 11 after seizing the city.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
confirmed in the afternoon that Turkey's consul general in Arbil received the drivers. Davutoğlu also added that only one of the drivers may need medical intervention and the rest are in a good condition.
A Turkish Airlines plane carrying the drivers landed the airport of the southeastern Turkish province of Şanlıurfa at 9.00 p.m. local time. Their families, as well as several local officials, met the drivers.
Earlier, the hostages arrived at the U.N.’s Mahmur camp - located some 20-30 kilometers from the place where they were released – where they were received by Turkish officials. They were then taken to Arbil by bus.
“We received the first positive developments last night. We won’t make any statement before our citizens are safe and I personally hear their voice,” Davutoğlu said.
Referring to the 49 Mosul consulate staff members who are still being held hostage, he said efforts were continuing to secure their release.
Speaking to Doğan News Agency, one of the drivers, Serdar Bayrak, said they were being transported to the Iraqi Kurdish region after the militants told them to pack this morning. He also said they had called their relatives to confirm that they had been released, the agency reported.
Another driver, Vehbi Demir, told private broadcaster CNNTürk they had stepped out of the vehicles and were continuing the rest of the way to Mahmur by foot.
ISIL renamed itself simply as the Islamic State (IS) after its leader declared a new Islamic state in lands seized last month across a swathe of Iraq and Syria.
Campaign propaganda claims
Umut Oran, a leading deputy of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), asked Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
in a parliamentary question last month if the Turkish hostages in Iraq would be used by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
as a "propaganda tool." "Is it true that hostages will be met by Erdoğan as a show after his nomination? Is there a sham fight between the government and ISIL?" Oran asked.
Erdoğan was announced July 1 as the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) candidate for the presidential elections scheduled for next month.
The Foreign Ministry denied the claims as "baseless and ugly" in a written statement on July 2. "Nothing is more important than the safety of the life of our citizens. Our public knows the concerted and effective efforts that were put by our state in previous incidents. Turning such an incident, which is related to our national interests and carries a special sensitivity for the families of our retained citizens, into a subject of baseless claims is regreftul," the statement said.