Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Questions linger about freed hostages

Published:Sunday | September 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (centre right) stands with freed hostages at the airport in Ankara, Turkey, yesterday. - AP

ANKARA, (AP):

Turkish authorities yesterday claimed that they had freed 49 hostages from one of the world's most ruthless militant groups without firing a shot, paying a ransom, or offering a quid pro quo.

But as the well-dressed men and women captured by the Islamic State group more than three months ago clasped their families on the tarmac of the Turkish capital's airport, experts had serious doubts about the government's story.

The official explanation "sounds a bit too good to be true", said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies. "There are some very legitimate and unanswered questions about how this happened."

Abducted in June

The hostages - whose number included two small children - were seized from the Turkish Consulate in Mosul after the Islamic State group overran the Iraqi city on June 11. Turkish leaders gave only the broadest outlines of their rescue yesterday.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the release was the work of the country's intelligence agency rather than a special forces operation.

"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 Davutoglu.

The prime minister was the star of the homecoming ceremony yesterday, flying the hostages back to Ankara on his plane and delivering an impassioned address to the crowd. Families rushed the aircraft to greet their returning loved ones. The ex-hostages emerged wearing clean dresses and suits and showed little sign of having been held captive by fanatical militants for more than three months.

The hostages' joyous reunion at the airport came as an enormous relief after the recent beheading of other hostages - two American journalists and a British aid worker - by the Islamic State group. The gruesome deaths briefly reignited a debate over whether the US or British government should pay ransoms to free hostages.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported no ransom had been paid and "no conditions were accepted in return for their release", although it didn't cite any source for its reporting.

The agency said the hostages had been held at eight separate addresses in Mosul and their whereabouts were monitored by drones and other means.

The Iraqi government said it had no information about the rescue.