Two of 18 kidnapped Turkish workers freed in Iraq

Two of 18 kidnapped Turkish workers freed in Iraq

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
Two of 18 kidnapped Turkish workers freed in Iraq

AFP photo

Two of 18 Turkish workers kidnapped by gunmen in Baghdad this month have been freed in the southern city of Basra in front of a Turkish company’s construction site, officials told Hürriyet Daily News on Sept. 16. 

The release of the two could be a message showing that the militant group has “taken a step” according to an initial assessment from Ankara, which believes the kidnapping is not the work of gangs but was conducted by a group linked to Shiite militias in Iraq. 

“Two of our 18 fellow citizen abducted in Baghdad have been released. The two released workers are Necdet Yılmaz and Ercan Özpilavcı,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgiç told the Doğan News Agency. The released workers said that the remaining Turkish nationals were also in good health, according to the Turkish officials. 

One of the workers might have been released because he is quite old and has health problems, said sources, who asked to remain anonymous. The man might have also been released because he has two sons and one grandson among the kidnapped, and the group did not want to harm so many members from the same family.

The two were among 18 employees of major Turkish construction firm Nurol İnşaat kidnapped on Sept. 2 in the Sadr City area of north Baghdad, where they were working on a football stadium project.

The group has not asked for any ransom money and kidnapping is not the particular purview of gangs, sources told the Daily News, stressing the political motive of the kidnapping.

An unknown militant group, Furaq al-Mawt, or “Death Squads,” claimed the kidnappings in a video posted online last week and issued a list of demands it said Ankara must fulfil for them to be freed. 

Sources said the third demand was the group’s priority, namely the lifting of a siege on four Shiite villages in northern Syria that the group says are under threat from a Syrian rebel group backed by Turkey. The militants also asked Ankara to stop militants from travelling from Turkey to Iraq, and cut the flow of “stolen oil from Kurdistan through Turkish territory.”

Ankara believes the group is part of Shiite militias in Iraq or a group which has broken off from the militias. 

Dozens of Turks have been kidnapped but later released in Iraq in the past 18 months by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadist group, which overran large parts of the country last year.

But Sadr City, where the 18 Turks were kidnapped, is a stronghold of Shiite paramilitary forces opposed to the jihadists.

Top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has demanded that they be released.