Militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have executed 13 kidnapped Turks, including military and police personnel, in a cave in northern Iraq, Turkish officials said on Sunday, amid a military operation against the group.
Forty eight PKK militants were killed during the military operation, while three Turkish soldiers were killed and three wounded, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in a statement. Twelve of the kidnapped Turks had been shot in the head and one in the shoulder, he said.
Turkey launched the military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq's Gara region on Feb. 10 to secure its border and find citizens who had been kidnapped previously, he said.
The governor of Malatya province in southeast Turkey named six soldiers and two police officers, kidnapped in separate incidents more than five years ago, as being among those killed in the cave. Three of the dead have yet to be identified.
One senior security source told Reuters that Turkish intelligence personnel were among the dead.
"According to initial information given by two terrorists captured alive, our citizens were martyred at the start of the operation by the terrorist responsible for the cave," Akar said at the operation's control centre near the Iraq border.
A statement on a PKK website said some prisoners it was holding, including Turkish intelligence, police and military personnel, had died during clashes in the area. The group denied it had ever hurt prisoners.
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Turkish officials vowed to continue the fight against the PKK, and presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin accused other countries of failing to speak out against the militants. He said the 13 abducted people had been civilians.
"(The PKK) attacks Turkish and Iraqi security forces and civilians. It continues its terrorist attacks in northern Syria. The world is silent. This silence is a shameful act of complicity. But we will not remain silent," he wrote on Twitter.
In 2017, Turkey's foreign minister said Ankara was working to bring back citizens he said had been kidnapped by the PKK, after Turkish media reported two Turkish intelligence officers had been captured by the PKK in Iraq.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, launched its armed insurgency in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
In the last two years Turkey's fight against the PKK has increasingly focused on northern Iraq, where the group has its stronghold in the Qandil mountains on the Iranian border.