Turkey in talks to free citizens kidnapped in Iraq

ISIS militants from the jihadist group abducted 49 people from the Turkish consulate in Mosul

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Turkey said Thursday it is holding talks to secure the release of dozens of its citizens kidnapped by Islamist militants in northern Iraq amid international calls for their release.

“We are in touch with all the groups in Iraq including Kurds and Turkmens,” a government official told AFP, without giving further details.

“We have stepped up our diplomatic initiative for the release of the kidnapped citizens.”

Militants from the jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) abducted 49 people from the Turkish consulate in Mosul, including the head of the mission, on Wednesday.

ISIS also seized 31 Turkish truck drivers from a power station in the city on Tuesday, drawing a promise of harsh reprisals from Ankara if any are harmed.

As Turkey urged any citizens still in the country to “leave Iraq as soon as possible”, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the government was working to ensure the release of those taken hostage.

While refusing to give details, he said those abducted are in a “safer zone”.

“The safety of each citizen is vital to us,” he told reporters. “Our prayers are with them... We will make efforts to hopefully receive good news soon.”

With the security situation in northern Iraq deteriorating, Turkey has advised its citizens against “any travel” to the country.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has demanded the immediate release of the Turkish hostages, labelling the kidnappings a “criminal act”.

However he stressed he saw no role for the alliance in Iraq.

Visiting Ankara, Samantha Power, the US permanent representative to the United Nations, condemned the abductions and warned that ISIL poses a “clear security threat to Iraq and a growing threat to the region”.

During a phone call with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday, the American Vice President Joe Biden said the US “is prepared to support Turkey’s efforts to bring about the safe return of its citizens”.

But while US President Barack Obama has said his security team is “looking at all the options” to save Iraq’s security forces from collapse, Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, denied that the government was seeking a mandate from parliament to launch a military mission to rescue the hostages.

“As far as I know I am unaware of any work on a mandate,” he said. “I don’t know if the current mandate is sufficient. The government is of course evaluating these issues.”

A current mandate, which expires in October, allows Ankara to order military strikes across its southern border against Kurdish rebels holed up in northern Iraq.

Turkey also shares a long border with Syria, and the Iraqi kidnappings come amid growing concern in Ankara over the rise of radical Islamist groups across the border.

Earlier this month Turkey added the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria which is accused of committing war crimes against civilians, to a list of terrorist organizations.

Turkey, which backs the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, has repeatedly denied claims that it is providing shelter for or backing Al-Qaeda linked groups in Syria.

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