Islamic State Releases 49 Turkish Hostages Captured in Iraq

The Turks, including diplomatic staff, were seized on June 11, when the Islamic State group overran Mosul and stormed the Turkish Consulate there.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (back) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet to discuss U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, September 12, 2014. Credit: Reuters

The release on Saturday of 49 Turkish hostages seized by Islamic State insurgents in northern Iraq in June was part of a "pre-planned operation" by Turkish intelligence, President Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement cited by broadcaster NTV.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said earlier that the captives were freed through the intelligence agency's "own methods" and that no operation was carried out.

The Turks, including diplomatic staff, were seized on June 11, when the Islamic State group overran Mosul, Iraq and stormed the Turkish Consulate there. The hostages included Consul General Ozturk Yilmaz, other diplomats, children and special forces police.

Davutoglu told Turkish reporters during a visit to Baku, Azerbaijan that the hostages were released early on Saturday and had arrived in Turkey. He was cutting his visit short to meet with the hostages in the province of Sanliurfa, near Turkey's border with Syria.

Turkey did not pay a ransom for the 49 hostages who were freed on Saturday after being held for three months by Islamic State militants, broadcaster NTV reported, without saying how it had obtained the information. There were no clashes with the militants during an operation to free the captives, according to the report.

Turkey had publicly resisted joining a coalition to defeat the Islamic State group, citing its 49 kidnapped citizens.

The United States had been careful not to push Turkey too hard as it tried to free the hostages.

The extremist group has beheaded two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker who were working in Syria as payback for airstrikes that Washington has launched against them in Iraq.

"I am sharing a joyful news which as a nation we have been waiting for," Davutoglu said. "After intense efforts that lasted days and weeks, in the early hours, our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back to our country."

"They have crossed into Turkey and I am on my way to see them," Davutoglu said.

Thirty-two Turkish truck drivers who were also seized in Mosul in June 6 were released a month later. Turkey did not provide information surrounding their release.