Turkey is celebrating the return of 49 of their citizens held for 101 days by Islamic State. The hostages were captured when the Iraqi city of Mosul fell to the terrorists.
Turkey’s state run news agency Anadolu reported that “no ransom had been paid and “no conditions were accepted in return for their release.”
But many observers weren’t buying that explanation.
The official explanation “sounds a bit too good to be true,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies. “There are some very legitimate and unanswered questions about how this happened.”
The hostages — whose number included two small children — were seized from the Turkish Consulate in Mosul after the Islamic State group overran the Iraqi city on June 11. Turkish leaders gave only the broadest outlines of their rescue Saturday.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the release was the work of the country’s intelligence agency rather than a special forces operation.
“After intense efforts that lasted days and weeks, in the early hours our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back,” Davutoglu said.
Davutoglu was the star of the homecoming ceremony Saturday, flying the hostages back to Ankara on his plane and delivering an impassioned address to the crowd. Families rushed the aircraft to greet their returning loved ones. The ex-hostages emerged wearing clean dresses and suits and showed little sign of having been held captive by fanatical militants for more than three months.
The hostages’ joyous reunion at the airport came as an enormous relief after the recent beheadings of other hostages — two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker — by the Islamic State group. The gruesome deaths briefly reignited a debate over whether the U.S. or British government should pay ransoms to free hostages.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported no ransom had been paid and “no conditions were accepted in return for their release,” although it didn’t cite any source for its reporting.
The agency said the hostages had been held at eight separate addresses in Mosul and their whereabouts were monitored by drones and other means.
The Iraqi government said it had no information about the rescue.
The hostages declined to answer all but the most general questions, although a couple hinted at ill treatment or death threats.
While the Turkish government broadly hints at some kind of cloak and dagger operation, the truth may be as simple as the government of Prime Minister Erdogan trading their pledge not to allow anti-ISIS forces uses of their bases and not joining the coalition for their prisoners.
What is certain is that the release of the hostages hasn’t changed Turkey’s mind about the coalition:
Turkey had been reluctant to join a coalition to defeat the Islamic State group, citing the safety of its 49 kidnapped citizens, but Stein said he doubted Turkey would suddenly adopt a much more muscular attitude toward the organization. Turkey might feel freer to advertise its existing efforts against the group, he said, citing its efforts to control oil smuggling across the border. But he said Turkey would not open its air bases to U.S. aircraft operating against the group.
“There will some changes, but not as much as people hope,” he said.
ISIS has hardly been restrained from killing fellow Muslims so there has to be another reason the hostages lives were spared. Whatever that reason was, Turkey — a member of NATO at present — still won’t allow their allies to press the fight against ISIS from their soil.