Saving hostages, saving credibility

Saving hostages, saving credibility

Saving 49 hostages from the hands of the new-generation terrorists like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) after 101 days in captivity would not be an easy job for any country on the planet, let alone Turkey.

Initially, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced that 46 Turkish citizens (three Iraqi citizens working as locals for the Turkish Consulate in Mosul had stayed in their country) were free and back in Turkey, in the early hours of Sept. 20 during his visit to Azerbaijan.

As Davutoğlu was getting prepared to leave Baku earlier than planned – before the laying out ceremony for the strategic Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) - it was President Tayyip Erdoğan who made the second announcement. Erdoğan said the hostages were freed as a result of an “intelligence operation” carried out by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

As soon as Davutoğlu landed in the Turkish border city of Şanlıurfa, where the hostages were handed over to Turkish government officials and from where they took off for Ankara, the stories started to leak, despite a strict government suggestion to the hostages to not talk about their captivity.

Yes, they were badly treated by ISIL. The Turkish Consul General in Mosul, Öztürk Yılmaz, who was among the captives, had refused at least twice to appear in front of an ISIL propaganda camera, despite having a gun pointed at his head. Scars on his forehead were also evident. “It’s not an easy mission to keep the Turkish flag high in a place like Mosul,” Yılmaz was quoted as saying.

Davutoğlu announced in Ankara that the whole operation was executed by the Exterior Operations Directorate (DOB) of the MİT, in coordination with the Foreign Ministry and the military, along with minor roles for other government agencies.

President Erdoğan gave further important details regarding the “operation” on Sept. 21 before flying to New York for the United Nations General Assembly sessions, stressing that Turkey had not paid any ransom to ISIL for the hostages.

At the center of the MİT operation (“You don’t always need airplane attacks and guns to succeed in an operation,” Erdoğan said) was “political and diplomatic bargaining” with ISIL. The president also said Turkey declining to get involved in military operations in the anti-ISIL front meetings in Jeddah and Paris, as well as meetings in NATO, had helped it free the hostages alive.

That information coincides with a report on the “Takva” website, which is affiliated with ISIL and is infamous for running videos featuring the beheadings of journalists. Attributing the claim to ISIL sources, Takva said there were “negotiations” between DOB officials and “foreign ministry officials” of their acclaimed “Islamic State” in Iraqi and Syrian territory. ISIL thought this amounted to a “de facto recognition.”

This coincided with the information given by a Turkish intelligence officer who spoke to HDN on condition of anonymity, saying that they left no stone unturned and used every possible way to get access to ISIL, including deception and false flag methods.

Answering a question about a swap of arrested ISIL militants in Turkey, (for example three terrorists who were arrested in March 2014 after killing Turkish security forces), Erdoğan neither confirmed nor denied the swap. “What if it is so?” Erdoğan said. “The most important thing is that we got our hostages back safe and sound.” Considering that Israel, for example, swapped 1,027 Hamas and other Palestinian prisoners, some of whom had actually killed its own citizens, for Gilat Shalit back in 2011, Erdoğan has a point.

One of the most important remarks that Erdoğan made in the press conference was that since the hostages are free and back in their homes, Turkey’s “decision-making mechanism could act more freely.” Answering a question about whether the government’s stance regarding the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition could change, Erdoğan said, “We have discussed the new situation with the prime minister and I asked him to make preparations,” indicating a revision of Turkey’s policy after the U.N. contacts. That may not be something that will please ISIL, but the hostage episode is closed now.

It is likely that the relief and joy across Turkey over the freeing of the hostages might now give way to debates on how the kidnappings were possible in Mosul in the first place, and how the whole ISIL story will affect the Kurdish situation in the region. The fight between ISIL and the Kurdish forces in the north of both Syria and Iraq has been going on for days, with hundreds of Kurdish militants crossing the border from Turkey to Syria to join clashes, and the number of Syrian Kurds escaping from fights into Turkey exceeding 70,000 as of yesterday.