One of the Turkish hostages who was released on Saturday along with 45 other Turkish nationals who were kidnapped by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from Turkey’s Consulate General in Mosul over three months ago has claimed that the hostages were brought to the Turkey-Syria border by ISIL militants and had to wait there for four hours until agents from the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) arrived.
The claim, if it proves true, means a blow to the Turkish government officials’ efforts to present the whole hostage release as a success story in the name of the Turkish government and Turkish intelligence officials.
Speaking to the private Doğan news agency (DHA) on Wednesday, Turkish special forces member Veysel Can in Gaziantep province was quoted as saying that the 46 Turkish nationals had to wait for MİT’s arrival after being brought by bus to the Akçakale border gate between Turkey and Syria. Can said the ISIL militants told the hostages that they were going to be sent to Turkey soon and transported them from Raqqa to Telabyad in Syria and then to the Akçakale border gate.
“Because they [ISIL] had not notified MİT in advance, we had to wait four hours at the border. After this time passed, the Turkish officials [likely MİT members] arrived and told us that they are going to sign some documents and then receive the hostages, counting them one by one. Then they received us and some of our friends [among the hostages] started to cry after seeing the Turkish flag. We were then taken to MİT’s regional station and made our first phone calls to our families,” DHA quoted Can as saying.
After 101 days in captivity, the 46 Turkish citizens, who were kidnapped by ISIL on June 11, were freed without bloodshed or a ransom payment, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but a number of questions remain unanswered.
Turkish officials are reluctant to give the details of the “rescue operation.” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was on an official visit to Azerbaijan when the news about the hostage release broke early on Saturday. Davutoğlu cut his trip short and traveled to Şanlıurfa on Saturday, where the released Turks were brought, and he traveled with them to Ankara, after the hostages were given fresh clothes.
In Ankara, the hostages met with their families on the tarmac of Esenboğa Airport before a large crowd of media outlets. Davutoğlu kissed the forehead of Turkey’s Mosul Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz — who was among the hostages – and he embraced the children of hostages, including Yılmaz’s three children.
President Erdoğan said on Sunday that the rescue operation was “entirely national” and both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu on separate occasions congratulated MİT members for the role they played in securing the release of the 46 Turks.
Erdoğan said Turkish officials did not bargain with ISIL militants for the release of the hostages. He said their release was a result of “diplomatic and political negotiations,” but did not elaborate further. This was a “diplomatic victory” on the part of Turkey, Erdoğan added.
In the meantime, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Hatay deputy Mehmet Ali Ediboğlu told Today’s Zaman on Wednesday that a “simultaneous swap” was made between Turkish officials and the ISIL militants. According to Ediboğlu, the Turkish hostages were released after Turkey secured the release of 50 ISIL militants from the Tawhid Brigade, an opposition group in Syria. Ediboğlu said he can confirm the swap stories with the press, according to the information in his hand.
A member of Turkish special forces, Can, 50, the father of three, told DHA that soldiers from an Iraqi army unit which resided in a building across the consulate left a short time before ISIL’s seizure of Turkey’s Consulate General in Mosul.
According to Can, about 1,000 ISIL militants besieged the consulate general building on the day that they were taken hostage. He said the ISIL militants handed a notice to the people in the area asking everyone to leave after a commander from ISIL was killed saying that the revenge for that killing will be bloody.
“On the day of the seizure, they came to the door and one Turkmen among the ISIL militants asked us to open the door. We said it’s not possible. By my estimation, three trucks carrying more than 500 kilograms of explosives came to the entrance of our building,” said Can.
He also said there were militants with rocket-propelled grenades. Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz called then-Foreign Minister Davutoğlu and on Davutoğlu’s order the Turkish personnel at the consulate general had to surrender, Can said.
According to Can, after surrendering, an Azerbaijani ISIL commander told the Turkish hostages that ISIL was not going to send them to Turkey right away but that they first needed to establish an understanding on certain issues.
Can said when in captivity their location changed eight times and at some point they were exposed to a military air strike. He said a Turkish bomb sniffer dog named “Fırtına” died during this air strike. According to Turkish media reports on Wednesday, Erdoğan also said he was very sorry to hear about the death of Fırtına.
Can said they stayed in their first location for about eight to 10 days. Then the hostages were told they were going to be taken to a more secure place, which the ISIL militants called “the resort.” The building, which had long corridors, was hit by two bombs and as a result two Turkish hostages and the dog were injured. Can said the dog died one day later. He added that after this incident they were taken to another place with better living conditions.
According to Can, about 10 days before their release, one of the leaders of the ISIL militants broke the news that they were going to be freed soon. “We did not believe it because they had told us before we would be released. But when the release date came we were taken into a bus and thought that we would be transferred to another location. Then a person was called by the other ISIL militants and the governor of Mosul told us that an agreement had been reached with Turkey and we would be sent to Turkey. Even then we did not believe them,” Can said.