After being held captive by ISIS for three months, 49 Turkish citizens have returned home, though the circumstances of their release remain very unclear. The newly freed Turks, most of whom are diplomats and their families, were abducted from the Turkish consulate in Mosul, Iraq, on June 11. On Saturday, the hostages were reportedly brought from the Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold, Raqqa, to the Turkish province of Urfa, where Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met and flew with them to Turkey’s capital, Ankara.
Davutoglu credited his country’s intelligence agency with securing the hostages’ freedom. “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. According to the New York Times, “The semiofficial Turkish news agency Anadolu reported that Turkey had not paid ransom or engaged in a military operation, but said it had used drones to track the hostages, who had been moved to different locations at least eight times during their 101 days in captivity.” “No conditions were accepted in return for their release,” Anadolu stated.
While it’s nice to think that Turkey found a bloodless, no-strings-attached way to get its people back from ISIS, former Turkish diplomat Sinan Ulgen told the Associated Press that the official story “sounds a bit too good to be true.” “There are some very legitimate and unanswered questions about how this happened,” he added. The Turkish government reportedly discouraged the hostages from speaking with the press, and those who did gave few details about their ordeal. “I haven’t seen my family for 102 days. All I want to do is to go home with them,” said one.
Earlier this month, Turkey declined to join other Middle Eastern countries in signing a commitment to take “appropriate” action against ISIS, citing worries about the effect it might have on the treatment of the hostages. Their return might mean that Turkey will take a more active role in combatting the Islamic State. As the Times has reported, Turkey’s porous border with Syria has made it a reliable source of recruits for ISIS, which is partially funded by black-market oil trading it does there. Still, Turkey’s willingness to fight ISIS will likely remain tempered by fears of the terror group retaliating within the country. “One of the main hurdles for Turkey’s strategy was the hostage crisis,” explained analyst Mensur Akgun. But, “This doesn’t mean that Turkey will forget about its other reservations regarding national security when giving the green light to the demands from partners.”