Syrian rebels freed ISIL militants for the release of Turkish hostages
Deniz Zeyrek ANKARA
Free Syrian Army fighters rest inside a hole in the ground covered with sheets on one of the frontlines of the Wadi al-Daif camp in the southern Idlib countryside. REUTERS photo
Syrian rebel group Liwa al-Tawhid released 50 members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), including the family of a late leader, in a swap deal that ended with the release of 49 hostages abducted from Turkey’s consulate in Mosul.
The wife and children of Haji Bakr, an ISIL leader killed in Aleppo in February, were among the released ISIL members in the simultaneous exchange for the Turkish mission, a source told Hürriyet.
A total of 49 Turkish embassy staff were held hostage by ISIL for 101 days and were freed on Sept. 20.
The source said Liwa al-Tawhid, a group that split from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and fights against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, agreed to free the ISIL members after rounds of talks.
As part of the deal, the Turkish staff was released at a spot close to Turkey’s Akçakale border gate with Syria.
The Turkish staff reached Raqqa at 8 a.m. on Sept. 5, but they were still held until the ISIL members were handed over in the early hours of Sept. 20, according to the source.
The family of Haji Bakr and a number of other members were taken hostage by Liwa al-Tawhid during the clash in which Haji Bakr himself was killed.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refused to confirm or deny any swap for the release of the Turkish hostages in a speech on Sept. 21, saying diplomatic efforts played a role and that no ransom was paid to ISIL. The president highlighted that the most important point was rescuing the citizens, regardless of the method used.
“I do not know what they mean by bargaining. If they refer to materialistic bargaining, it’s totally out of the question. But if they talk about diplomatic bargaining, then yes it’s certainly true. This is a diplomatic success, the result of a political bargain,” Erdogan said.
“Whether there was a swap or not – of course, everybody will write something about it. What we look at here is: Whether a swap has taken place or not, our 49 citizens returned to Turkey. Even if this swap took place, as the president, I always look after my 49 citizens. Nothing can be of more value than my citizens. They are now back to my country,” he added.
Officials from the Justice Ministry confirmed to Hürriyet that there were “no missing people from the inventory of [Turkey’s] jails.”