Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announces his new cabinet in Ankara, August 29, 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
49 Turkish nationals abducted three months ago by Islamic State militants were freed on Saturday morning, Turkey's official press agency Anadolu Agency reported.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the freed citizens – who have been detained in Iraq since mid-June – were brought back to Turkey at 5:00 a.m. They were then taken to a complex in the southeastern city of Sanliurfa, where officials said they were in good health.
The 49 hostages, which included diplomats, soldiers, officers and their families, were taken from Turkey’s Mosul consulate when Islamic State militants seized control of the Iraqi city.
Davutoglu cut short a state visit to Azerbaijan to greet the former hostages. Speaking to journalists in Baku – Azerbaijan's capital and largest city – he called the news "happy" and said developments were followed closely throughout the night.
According to intelligence sources, the hostages were moved eight times in the past 101 days, before ultimately being transferred to Syria – due to security reasons – and crossing the border into Turkey.
Turkish media quoted intelligence personnel as saying the operation was not a military one and did not involve clashes with militants, but was based on negotiations with the Iraqis. No ransom was paid to Islamic State, NTV news channel reported, emphasizing that this was a "local" operation with no foreign intelligence taking part.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the release was part of a pre-planned operation by Turkey’s intelligence agency. He said the mission "continued overnight in complete secrecy," and thanked everyone involved for the well-planned, secret mission.
"Our National Intelligence [agency's] patience and dedication" made this a "successful rescue operation," Erdogan said in an official statement.
He gave the "biggest thanks to the families [for] waiting patiently." Earlier, the prime minister took to his official Twitter account to thank the families of the released citizens "from the bottom of my heart."
Islamic State has overrun large areas of Iraq and Syria, recruiting thousands of fighters to establish a self-proclaimed caliphate.