Dozens of Turkish hostages being held by the radical Islamic State group have been released. The hostages arrived in Turkey in the early hours of Saturday, local time, after being held for 101 days.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in a written statement that 49 Turkish hostages held by Islamic State had been released through the efforts of Turkey’s intelligence agency.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry says all the hostages are in good condition.
Taken hostage in June
The hostages are Turkish diplomats and their families, including women and young children, who were taken in June when Islamic State militants overran Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and seized the Turkish consulate.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who cut short a visit to Azerbaijan, said the release was the result of a protracted process.
Davutoglu said after days and weeks of intense work, Turkish officials returned their citizens to Turkey early in the morning. He said he was honored to share the happy news after the developments, which made up for weeks of sleepless nights and worry.
Local Turkish media reported the hostages, escorted by Turkish intelligence officers, arrived in a convoy of cars at the border city of Sanliurfa.
President Erdogan in his statement paid tribute to Turkey's intelligence service, saying through patience and dedication they had performed a rescue operation.
Details of release unclear
The details of how the hostages came to be released remain unclear. The prime minister said the intelligence service carried out the operation with their own methods.
There had been reports that the Islamic State group had been demanding as much as a $100 million ransom.
Ankara had cited the hostages as a factor limiting Turkey's participation in actions against the militants. NATO member Turkey borders Syria and Iraq, and is seen as a key member of the international coalition against the Islamic State fighters.
Thirty-two Turkish truck drivers who were also seized in Mosul on June 6 were released a month later. Turkey has not provided any information about their release.
In another development, Turkey's deputy prime minister said Saturday tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds have entered Turkey in a single day after Ankara opened its border.
Numan Kurtulmas said some 45,000 Syrian Kurds have crossed into Turkey, fleeing clashes with Islamic State fighters.