Turkey’s prime minister said 49 Turkish hostages seized by Islamic State militants in Iraq in June have been freed.
Turkey had cited the hostages as a roadblock to participating in a NATO coalition to defeat the militants.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Saturday the hostages were released earlier in the day Saturday and have arrived safely in Turkey. Television footage showed the former captives arriving at Ankara airport, greeted by overjoyed family members and friends.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages’ release. It did not cite a source for the information.
Davutoglu said the release was a result of the Turkish intelligence agency’s “own methods,” but did not give additional details.
Davutoglu said after days and weeks of intense work, he was honored to share the happy news after the developments, which made up for weeks of sleepless nights and worry.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish hostages were freed in “a successful operation.”
Erdogan in his statement paid tribute to Turkey’s intelligence service, saying through patience and dedication they had performed a rescue operation.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said the hostages, who were held for 101 days, are all in good condition.
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.
Local Turkish media reported the hostages, escorted by Turkish intelligence officers, arrived in a convoy of cars at the border city of Sanliurfa.
Details of the release remain unclear. 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.
Earlier this year, 32 Turkish truck drivers were also seized in Mosul on June 6 but 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.