Mosul Consulate ‘overpowered’ by ISIL militants at the gates, Turkish hostage says

Mosul Consulate ‘overpowered’ by ISIL militants at the gates, Turkish hostage says

Sevil Erkuş ANKARA
Mosul Consulate ‘overpowered’ by ISIL militants at the gates, Turkish hostage says

The commercial attaché of Turkey's Mosul consulate, Mehmet Argüç (R), told the Hürriyet Daily News about his experiences of 101 days in captivity at the hands of ISIL.

One of the 49 hostages from Turkey’s consulate in Mosul has broken the silence about the details of their 101 days of incarceration at the hands of jihadist militants, noting that personnel were powerless to resist the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from seizing their mission.

Around 500 to 1,000 ISIL militants suddenly seized the consulate on June 11, using a Turkmen translator to demand that they exit the compound, Commercial Attaché Mehmet Argüç told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Militants subsequently disarmed the Turkish security staff after personnel quickly discussed the matter with the Foreign Ministry in Ankara, Argüç said, adding that there was initially a belief that ISIL would not attack the Turkish consulate.

One of the ISIL militants seizing the consulate was a local Turkmen company official who had visited his office in the consulate at least five or 10 times, he said.

“We were destroying the documents. One day before the attack we wanted to evacuate the building, but the consulate said the militants could surround it and would not let us go. He told us ISIL would not do anything against us,” Argüç said.

ISIL fighters took the hostages to a hospital in the July 17 district of Mosul. Consular staff demanded to go to a mosque to pray, which was welcomed by the fighters.

“The local [ISIL] governor visited us on the fifth day of the abduction. He was young and wore a turban. ‘I studied in four universities,’ he told us and then started to interrogate us on our religious backgrounds. They had perceived us as blasphemers, but then they realized that we pray and read the Quran,” Argüç said.

Day by day, the fighters came to sympathize with the Turkish hostages, even trying to act in a warmer way, he also said, adding that the basic needs of the captives were met, including diapers and baby food for two babies that were among the captives.

Later, most of the hostages began to fast with the beginning of Ramadan.

More good news came toward the end of the holy month, as the militants said they would be freed at Eid al-Fitr. “We were bursting with happiness. We boarded two buses. But, then I saw that the vehicle turned the way to Dohuk. We got demoralized. Then they locked us in a school,” Argüç said.

Communication on phone

The hostages were moved eight times in Mosul during the 101 days of captivity. The militants, however, were very afraid that the Iraqi army’s bombardment of the city would kill the hostages during one of the moves.

Argün said the Turkish hostages, including the consul general, had phone conversations with Turkey and their whereabouts were determined by Iraqi authorities due to those talks. The Iraqi army launched air strikes on areas near the houses where the hostages were kept, he said.

“The militants said [then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki and Iran wanted to kill us and they pledged that they would not let them harm us,” he said.

A couple of times the hostages barely survived airstrikes by the Iraqi army, which once bombarded four meters away of the house. Two ISIL militants were killed, while the hostages’ room was destroyed, causing slight injuries to the Turkish citizens, he said.

After the airstrike, ISIL fighters fettered, blindfolded and put handcuffs on the hostages while transferring them to a more secure house, Argüç said, noting that the Mosul governor was then sorry for that behavior.

Captives were able to watch TV, Argüç said, but added that footage of people walking around streets made him jealous. “Cheerful people were walking, swimming on TV. I wondered if I would be able to do so. I got jealous of free people on TV and stopped watching it. I wished I was in the place of those birds and cats wandering around the garden.”

One day the governor appeared, smiling and saying they would be freed the next day, he said, adding that he introduced a commander from Syria. “But, nobody appeared for the next 10 days. The militants told us they were trying to secure the road. We were angry, thinking they were all liars,” Argüç said.

But 10 days later a Turkmen among the jihadist group whispered that next day they would go back to Turkey. However, an air attack on an agriculture compound in the district delayed their freedom one more day.

On Sept. 19, the hostages were loaded onto buses and departed for Raqqa in Syria. The entire road was secured by ISIL militants, and there was no sign of airstrikes on that day, Argüç said.

Members of Turkish intelligence received the captives from the customs crossing at Tal Abyad. “Some of our friends said goodbye to the ISIL members. The militants were cautious since their commanders were on the scene. But I realized a light of happiness in the eyes of some of them because we were going back to Turkey,” Argüç said.

As they left the border crossing, the first demand of some hostages was to smoke, Argüç said, recalling that smoking was forbidden in Mosul and that some of them smoked dry tea leaves.

Some ISIL militants are questioning the violence of the group and the killing of Muslims, according to Argüç.

“Some of them asked us why ISIL had taken Turks hostage. I believe that some Turkmens, for instance, do not sympathize with what ISIL is doing and they will leave the group.”

The fighters also displayed video footage of their executions, but they did not force the captives to watch, he said.

Some of the captives had cell phones, while women in the groups hid batteries, he said, noting that Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz maintained contact with Ankara. However, the hostages had to abandon all their belongings, including the cell phones, during every change of location, Argüç said.

The attaché, meanwhile, expressed disappointment that the consulate was not evacuated earlier. “I wish at least the families had left the consulate when the initial news reports of the ISIL attacks on Mosul emerged,” he said.