The self-proclaimed Islamic State has freed 49 Turkish hostages from the country’s besieged consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The freed men were greeted with crowds waving Turkish flags when they arrived back in the city of Ankara early Saturday morning.
BBC News reports that Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said their release was “joyful news”. He declined to go into details as to how the hostages were freed, but said that they country’s intelligence agencies were involved. The government also denied paying a ransom to the ISIS terror group in return for the hostages’ release.
They were seized in June after ISIS overran northern Iraq and occupied the city of Mosul, spreading terror to local residents and forcing them to adopt a severe form of Islamic law.
Turkey had previously ruled out military involvement to rescue to consulate workers over fears for their safety, as well as possible reprisals by ISIS who hold territory close to the Turkish border.
Officials say that the 49 hostages include consulate staff, children and special forces police, as well as three local Iraqis.
Mr Davutoglu said that all the hostages were in good health, adding: “In the early hours our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back to our country.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also declined to give specific details, saying: “I thank the prime minister and his colleagues for this carefully planned, detailed and secret operation, which continued all night and was successfully completed early in the morning.”
The release comes after Turkey declined to sign up to a US-led coalition against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, out of fears that the group could launch attacks against it. There is speculation that ISIS may have released the hostages as a reward for Turkey’s decision, although the country has a history of picking its fights very carefully: it also declined to get involved in the 2003 Iraq war.
ISIS also released 30 Turkish lorry drivers in July, but Turkey’s government declined to make details of this public.