The Turkish government reacted with alarm on Wednesday, June 11, to the seizure of the country’s consul general and his staff by militants in Mosul, Iraq, vowing to retaliate if any of its citizens are wounded, the New York Times reported.
“Our primary objective is to bring our nationals home in safety,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a statement from New York. “No one should try to test the limits of Turkey’s strength.”
Forty-nine Turkish citizens from the consulate — staff members and their families, including three children — were being held hostage in Mosul, the Foreign Ministry said in a written statement. Among them are diplomats, support workers and special forces soldiers. The consul general, Ozturk Yilmaz, is a former adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and an expert on the region. The consulate was raided by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the radical group that has been making sweeping territorial gains in northern and western Iraq in recent days.
Another group of 31 Turks — truck drivers who were delivering fuel to a power plant in Mosul — was seized by ISIS militants on Tuesday, officials said.
The militants attacked the consulate in the early hours of Wednesday, and at first, staff members resisted and refused to open the building’s doors, according to a Turkish official who spoke on the condition of anonymity under diplomatic rules. After a long standoff, the insurgents threatened to bomb the building, and the group inside surrendered, the official said, adding that the militants allowed the special forces soldiers to keep their weapons. The hostages were taken to an improvised ISIS headquarters in Mosul, the official said.
The Turkish news media reported late on Wednesday that members of ISIS had demanded $5 million in ransom from the trucking company where the drivers work.
Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, held a round of emergency meetings with senior figures in his government to discuss how to deal with the situation, and Davutoglu, the foreign minister, cut short his trip to New York and flew back to Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Wednesday, their offices said.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Turkish diplomats were in contact with the Iraqi government, with the regional administration in the Kurdish-controlled part of Iraq east of Mosul, and with the United States, seeking ways to free the hostages. The ministry later released a statement saying that Turkey had also been in contact with NATO and the United Nations.