Iraq jihadists release thirty-two Turkish hostages
ANKARA - Thirty-two Turkish truck drivers held hostage for three weeks by Islamic militants in Iraq have been freed and handed over to consular staff, Turkey's foreign minister said Thursday.
"The 32 drivers were delivered to our consul 15-20 minutes ago," Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara, adding that they were now on their way to the city of Arbil in the relatively stable Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
Previous reports had said 31 truck drivers had been held. They had been kidnapped by the militants from the jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who now control swathes of the country.
Davutoglu said a plane had taken off from Istanbul to fly the Turkish citizens from Arbil to Ankara this evening.
Davutoglu said that the foreign ministry had been informed of the impending release Wednesday night by the Turkish intelligence agency but had not made any announcement until now for security reasons.
He said he had spoken with one of the drivers today and said that they were unharmed.
Militants storming the Turkish consulate in Mosul had also kidnapped 49 other Turks, including the consul, staff members, guards and three children.
There was however no information regarding their whereabouts.
"We will continue to work day and night to bring back the remaining citizens," said Davutoglu.
The kidnappings sparked intense concern in Ankara over the rise of radical Islamist groups across the border in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey, which backs the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has repeatedly denied accusations that it is itself to blame for the rise of the Islamist rebellion in Syria and Iraq.
A Turkish court last month imposed a controversial blackout on media coverage of the kidnapping of the Turks, after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the reports were "risking the lives of our people".