Ankara, Turkey, (Today’s Zaman): An al-Qaeda splinter group seized the Turkish consulate in Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul on Wednesday and took 49 Turkish citizens captive, including the Turkish consul general.
Turkish Foreign Ministry said militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) are holding 80 Turkish citizens seized in two separate incidents in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
The ministry said 49 of its citizens had been taken hostage at its consulate and transferred to another part of the city, while 31 others – truck drivers who were abducted on Tuesday – were being held hostage at a power station in Mosul.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the hostages are well.
According to the allegations, ISIL kidnapped all the Turkish diplomats in the consulate, including Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz, and took them to the main base of the extremist group in the July 17 area of western Mosul. Reports circulating in the Turkish media have also claimed that there were two children, three women and several members of Turkey’s special forces among the 49 abducted people.
A Twitter account called “Islamic State Media” said that ISIL had not abducted the Turks from the consulate.
“Turks are not kidnapped.. They are only taken to a safe location and until the investigation procedures are completed..,” claimed a post from the account thought to be a social media account of ISIL.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan and Chief of the General Staff Operations Department Lt. Gen. Erdal Öztürk held an emergency meeting in the Prime Ministry headquarters over the events. Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru also informed President Abdullah Gül about developments.
Davutoğlu canceled his program in New York where he was scheduled to deliver a speech at a United Nations counter-terrorism meeting, and set off for Turkey.
Speaking to the press on Wednesday, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said Turkey will do its part in parallel with its interests.
Reuters also reported a Turkish government source as saying: “Certain militant groups in Mosul have been directly contacted to ensure the safety of diplomatic staff.”
Al Jazeera Turk, citing an Iraqi Turkmen citizen in Mosul, reported that ISIL broke into the consulate in the afternoon after threatening the diplomats in the consulate with a bomb attack. The ISIL militants, according to these reports, did not abduct the Iraqi personnel in the consulate.
On Tuesday, Turkey’s consulate general in Mosul found itself in the heart of the clashes; however, no attack was carried out against the Turkish diplomatic mission on Tuesday. After ISIL gained power in Mosul, the Foreign Ministry started to work for the evacuation of the consulate’s personnel.
The extremist group’s entry into Turkish territory and seizure of the consulate may also bring about Turkish military intervention. However, Turkish media reports, citing government sources, say Ankara is in favor of a solution without resorting to the use of arms.
There were also reports on Tuesday that the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) peshmerga forces had prevented ISIL from attacking the Turkish consulate in Mosul. Following the seizure of Mosul by the militant group, the staff of the Turkish consulate were evacuated by the peshmerga forces, according to the reports.
An ISIL spokesperson had previously stated that the group will protect the Turkish consulate in Mosul as well as civilians in the city, adding that the group does not intend to attack the Kurdish region in Iraq. The spokesperson of the al-Qaeda-affiliated group also added it they will treat the Turkish truck drivers who were recently taken captive in the region in accordance with Shariah rules.
The seizure of the consulate comes a day after 28 Turkish truck drivers were abducted by ISIL militants while carrying diesel from Turkey’s southern port of İskenderun to a power plant in Mosul. Turkish media outlets later reported that the number of abducted truck drivers had risen to 32.
Before the reports that claimed five more drivers had also been taken hostage, Davutoğlu said on his Twitter account on late Tuesday that the Turkish drivers held by ISIL are “safe and sound.”
“As for the 28 Turkish citizens in Mosul, we are following the developments using a variety of sources. So far, we have been able to confirm that they are safe and sound,” Davutoğlu said on Twitter.
He had also added that the necessary measures had been taken for the safety of the Turkish consulate in Mosul.
Turkish media outlets previously reported that ISIL forces in Syria are trying to gain control of the area around the tomb of Süleyman Şah — the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire — and that the area, which is Turkish national territory, is under the threat of attack. Turkey has pledged to protect the tomb, saying that Turkey will retaliate in the event of an attack on Süleyman Şah’s resting place, irrespective of who is responsible for the attack.
Hours before the reports of the Turkish diplomats being abducted by extremists, President Abdullah Gül called an extremist group’s seizing of Mosul “unacceptable” and said that developments like those in Mosul should not be allowed in the region.
“In Turkey, of course, we closely follow the situation both from military and political aspects. Both the [Foreign] Ministry and the [Turkish] Armed Forces [TSK] have held coordination meetings. Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq. These developments [the seizure of Mosul] are unacceptable. As far as I can see, there are intense consultations [over the developments in Iraq]. I am sure that current developments in the region should not be allowed,” Gül said in remarks to reporters at the Çankaya Palace on Wednesday.
Gül admitted that Turkey’s relations with Iraq are not at a desirable level; however, he said Turkey will always respect the territorial integrity of Iraq, the country’s constitution and the will of the Iraqi people and as there are no problems in these main issues, it is better to be in contact with Iraq on the issues of security and terror.
He also underlined that Turkey needs to secure its borders and act together with other countries in the region.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also delivered a public speech on Wednesday; however, he did not mention the growing threat on Turkey’s borders.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç also called the developments in Mosul a source of concern. Arınç said the situation in Iraq is a challenging equation with multiple variables. The deputy prime minister also said that Turkey will not allow abducted people to remain under the control of an extremist group, regardless of whether they are Iraqi Turkmen or from any other Iraqi ethnic groups. Arınç repeated Davutoğlu’s remarks, saying that the truck drivers have been kept in safety.