Top Islamic State leaders may have been released as part of a deal executed over the weekend that saw forty-nine Turks freed from the hands of jihadis, according to reports documenting the exchange.
The Turkish nationals were freed this weekend after spending 101 days in captivity. Answers regarding the process behind the freeing of the once-captive citizens, along with the logistics of their journey from Mosul to Turkey, and what convinced Islamic State jihadis to free the abductees, remain largely unclear and unknown.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan weighed in, calling the operation a “diplomatic success.” He then told reporters, “Whether there was or wasn’t a swap — [the consulate] personnel were returned to Turkey.”
“After intense efforts that lasted days and weeks, in the early hours our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back,” said Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
“A few names who are of great significance to ISIL have been used in the swap,” said Abdulkadir Selvi of Turkey’s Yeni Safak newspaper.
In June, the hostages were kidnapped from Turkey’s Consulate in Mosul, after Islamic State militants overran the northern Iraq city.
In late August, a Turkish newspaper claimed that its officials had agreed to a land-for-prisoners swap with the Islamic State that demanded the surrender of the tomb of Süleyman Sah, who was the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, Osman I. The tomb lies within Syria’s borders but is property of Turkey.
Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat, told the Washington Post that the government’s account of the exchange “sounds to good to be true,” adding, “There are some very legitimate and unanswered questions about how this happened.”
Separately, Turkey has refused a US request to use its territory in order to conduct air strikes against the Islamic State. Ankara has also announced that they do not intend on joining the US-led air campaign against IS fighters. A Turkish official told AFP: ” Turkey will not be involved in any armed operation but will entirely concentrate on humanitarian operations. Turkey will not take part in any combat mission, nor supply weapons.”