ANKARA, Turkey — 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 of which groups Ankara is talking to.
“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 the Levant (ISIL) on Wednesday abducted 49 people from the Turkish consulate in Mosul, including the head of the mission.
ISIL has also seized 31 Turkish truck drivers at a Mosul power station, drawing a promise of harsh reprisals from Ankara if any were harmed.
Fighters from the group are planning to march on Iraq’s capital Baghdad, according to a US-based monitoring group, after seizing a large swathe of the north of the country.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Thursday demanded the immediate release of the Turkish hostages, labeling the kidnappings a “criminal act.”
Samantha Power, the US permanent representative to the United Nations, condemned the abductions and warned that ISIL posed a “clear security threat to Iraq and a growing threat to the region.”
Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, however, denied that the government is seeking a mandate from parliament to launch a military mission to rescue the victims.
“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.”
The current mandate, which expires in October, allows Ankara to order military strikes against Kurdish rebels holed up in northern Iraq.