Middle East

Erdogan says Turkey doing 'everything necessary' for Iraq hostages

In this Tuesday, June 10, 2014 photo, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sits in the pilot's sesat during a presentation for the Turkish-made military attack helicopter, T129 ATAK, outside Ankara, Turkey.(AP Photo)

ISTANBUL: Turkey's prime minister said Friday his government was doing "everything necessary" to secure the release of dozens of its citizens seized by jihadists in Iraq, after opposition criticism of its handling of the crisis.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected an opposition call to send the military to rescue the hostages, whos were kidnapped this week by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

"Nearly 100 of our citizens are in ISIL's hands. How could you explain if something happened to them? We are trying to find a solution," he said in his Black Sea hometown of Rize.

Turkey's priority was to bring back its citizens unharmed, he said.

"Diplomatic efforts to bring them back sound and safe are ongoing. We are doing everything necessary for this. Better late than never."

ISIL fighters abducted 49 people from the Turkish consulate in Mosul on Wednesday, after earlier seizing 31 Turkish truck drivers from a power station in the city.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc revealed earlier Friday that Turkey had prior warning of an attack on its consulate, and did not evacuate.

"We were more or less informed that ISIL was going to target our consulate while advancing (through Iraq)," he said.

Turkey decided not to evacuate the building, judging that to be too high risk given the security situation outside, he said.

Arinc told reporters the government had made contact by telephone with the hostages and they had "not been exposed to any bad treatment."

"I hope we will get good news today, but the situation is still fragile," he said.

With Islamic militants nearing the Iraqi capital, Turkey's foreign ministry issued a travel warning Friday advising its citizens to leave parts of the country, including Baghdad.

The ministry said Turkish citizens -- there are an estimated 125,000 in Iraq -- should leave the provinces of Mosul, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Diyala, Anbar and Baghdad.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said there was no evacuation plan, but Turkish Airlines is scheduling additional flights to Baghdad and Arbil.

The Iraq kidnappings come amid growing concern in Ankara over the rise of radical Islamist groups across the border with Syria.

ISIL is also active in Syria's eastern and northern regions where rebels are fighting both rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey, which backs the uprising against Assad, has repeatedly denied allegations that it is shipping arms to rebels or backing Islamist militants in Syria.

"The weapons in ISIL's hands are sent by Erdogan," Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) claimed in the Cumhuriyet newspaper on Friday.

On Thursday, Arinc denied claims that ISIL was among the parties Turkey was negotiating with. He said Turkey had no links with any of these groups, and had never armed them.

"Did Turkey consciously send people, weapons and financial aid to ISIL? No. We can say definitely no to this and the whole world knows it," he said.

 

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