Turkey secured the release of 180 Islamic State-affiliated prisoners last month, including two British jihadists, in order to free 49 Turkish consulate employees taken captive in Iraq, The Times of London reported Monday.
The report contradicts a September report by Turkish media that originally claimed that the government had only secured the release of 50 Islamic State affiliates held by Liwa al-Tawhid, an offshoot of the Free Syrian Army. According to The Times of London, the deal may have included IS fighters held in Turkish hospitals and prisons, and others detained by Syrian rebels.
A British official confirmed that reports detailing the release of the UK jihadists, 26-year-old Hisham Folkard and 18-year-old Shabazz Suleman, were “credible,” the BBC reported.
It is unclear whether London and Ankara had communicated with each other over the alleged prisoner swap.
British media described Suleman as an “A-level” student, who had gained acceptance into a distinguished university. He had allegedly slipped into Syria when he abandoned his family while vacationing in Turkey.
According to the Daily Mail, Suleman attended the Muslim Education Center in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, a town in southeast England. The Islamic center was also frequented by one of the men involved in the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot, a jihadist plan foiled by British security services that was designed to detonate liquid explosives on a number of aircraft traveling between the UK, the US and Canada.
Folkard’s father, who was described as a “devout Catholic,” told the London newspaper that he had cut off contact with his son after his mother had allowed him to study Islam in Yemen.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not confirm reports that Ankara had negotiated the release of Islamic State-affiliated prisoners last month. However, he noted that “diplomatic bargaining” had occurred between his government and an unspecified group.
“Whether a swap has taken place or not, our 49 citizens returned to Turkey,” Erdogan said in a speech that followed the release of the consulate employees. “Even if this swap took place, as the president, I always look after my 49 citizens. Nothing can be of more value than my citizens.”
If the allegations are true, however, Turkey could possibly be in violation of UN Resolution 2170, which prevents member states from negotiating with the Islamic State or providing it with “political concessions” to secure the release of hostages.