One of the 46 Turkish hostages released from captivity, following intervention by Turkey’s intelligence service, has revealed that US airstrikes may have almost killed him and his fellow captives but was also thankful that the attacks against ISIS may have ensured his survival. Öztürk Yılmaz was Turkey’s Consul General in Mosul, Iraq, when his consulate was overrun by gunmen from the so-called Islamic State on June 11. The hostages were freed Saturday, although little is known for certain about how the Turkish government was able to secure their freedom. Turkey has denied that any ransom was paid and there appears to have been no military rescue.
Speaking to NTV in the Turkish capitol, Ankara, Yılmaz described a US airstrike in the immediate area where he and the other hostages were being held. He recounted how the captives were secured inside a building when American warplanes attacked, killing two ISIS fighters who were standing guard. “Some air strikes hit very close.” The 19-year Turkish Foreign Ministry Veteran said. “There were people among us who were injured when windows shattered.”
According to the Consul General, the hostages spent the entire period of their captivity in the northern city of Mosul, despite claims by ISIS that they had been taken out of that city. It is assumed that the false claims were made in an attempt to prevent the hostages from being located. Yilmaz did say, however, that they were moved between some eight different locations, during the 101 days they were held. When speaking of the airstrikes by US planes, Yilmaz added “without the U.S. bombing, perhaps we wouldn’t be able to survive.”
The diplomat also revealed that their captors made them watch propaganda videos and also showed them videos of the beheadings of American hostages Steven Sotloff and James Foley. Other Turkish hostages have reported being threatened with death by the Jihadists who held them.
In announcing the release, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, declined to give details of the, apparently, negotiated hand over of the hostages; saying that it came about as a result of “intense efforts that lasted days and weeks.” It is not clear what, if any, affect this episode will have on Turkey’s stance, in relation to the US government’s latest attempts at building an international coalition to combat the rapidly growing threat from ISIS. The Turkish government recently refused to cooperate with the US air campaign against Islamic State fighters advancing across northern Iraq. The air base of Incirlik is only to be used in a support role and for humanitarian airlifts, since the Turkish government has denied US requests to use it for launching offensive strikes against ISIS. Whether or not the Turkish government previously felt unable to take a more offensive posture against ISIS, in order not to risk the lives of the hostages, remains undecided.
All the Turkish captives were consular staff and their families. Following their release in the early hours of Saturday morning, Öztürk Yılmaz was thinking mainly of seeing his own family again. Having survived almost being killed by Islamist extremists who have shown their eagerness to execute hostages and, then, coming close to being killed by US airstrikes, He intends to return to serving his country in the very near future. “Now I want to rest a few days with my family,” he told the Turkish TV station, “and then I’ll get back to work again.”
Graham J Noble