Middle East

Islamic militants release 32 Turkish drivers kidnapped in Iraq

Militants free 32 Turkish truck drivers kidnapped in Iraq. No word on 49 other Turks taken hostage

A group of 32 Turkish truck drivers kidnapped three weeks ago by Islamic militants in northern Iraq have been released and are en route home, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told journalists in Ankara on Thursday.

There was no immediate word, however, on the fate of 49 other Turks taken hostage by the militants previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, on June 11, Turkish media quoted Davutoglu as saying.

The renamed Islamic State, which announced this week that it had established a caliphate to govern the lands it seized in Iraq and Syria, also holds 46 Indian nurses who were working at a hospital in the town of Tikrit when it was taken by the radicals last week. 

The Hindustan Times reported Thursday that relatives of the captive nurses said they had been told the group was being moved from Tikrit to militant-controlled territory further north in Iraq.

The truck drivers were kidnapped June 9 while delivering diesel fuel to the city of Mosul as the militants staged a lightning strike across the north of Iraq. All of those freed were in good health except for one who might require "special treatment," the foreign minister said. 

The group was to be transported home by a Turkish Airlines jet sent to fetch them in the Kurdish city of Irbil, Davutoglu said, according to Today's Zaman newspaper website.

Turkish media had been prohibited by court order from reporting on the hostage situation, and word of the drivers' release set off a storm of criticism of the government

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who this week announced his candidacy for president ahead of an Aug. 10 election, has been accused of organizing the gag order to silence critics who say the government failed to recognize the danger posed for the 120,000 Turkish citizens working and living in Iraq.

There was also broad speculation in Turkish media that the government may have paid ransoms for the drivers' freedom. There were reports that ISIS demanded $50,000 for each of the trucks it seized more than three weeks ago.

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