ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Tuesday a group of Turkish truck drivers being held by suspected militants from an al Qaeda splinter group in Iraq were “safe and sound.”
A Turkish official said the 28 drivers were taken hostage by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) while carrying diesel from the Turkish port of Iskenderun to a power plant in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
“As for 28 Turkish citizens in Mosul, we are following the developments from various sources. So far we have been able to confirm that they are safe and sound,” Davutoglu said on his Twitter account.
ISIL, a militant Sunni Muslim group, seized control of Mosul on Tuesday, putting security forces to flight in a spectacular show of strength against the Shi’ite-led Baghdad government. “These truck drivers were taking fuel to an energy storage and distribution hub. When they arrived, ISIL (militants) were already there,” a Turkish official told Reuters.
“They were detained (by the militants), they haven’t been hijacked ... They’re unharmed as far as we’re aware. When they’ve finished transferring the fuel, we’re hoping that they will be freed.”
An official at Ikra Logistics, a trucking company based in the southern Turkish city of Adana that ships diesel to Mosul, said it had lost contact with some of its drivers and that they could be among those reportedly abducted.
“Their phones are switched off,” he said, declining to be identified.
Turkey has for years supplied refined oil products to Iraq, which is chronically short of diesel due to a lack of refineries and increasing power consumption.The fall of Mosul, a largely Sunni Arab city after years of ethnic and sectarian fighting, deals a serious blow to Baghdad’s efforts to fight Sunni militants who have regained ground and momentum in Iraq over the past year, taking Falluja and parts of Ramadi in the desert west of Baghdad at the start of the year.
ISIL is active in Syria’s civil war, controlling patches of territory along the Turkish border. It was disowned by al Qaeda’s central command earlier this year after it fell into territorial and power struggles with Jabhat al-Nusra rebels, who comprise al Qaeda’s official Syria wing.
Syria, torn by various regional conflicts, has fragmented into a patchwork of warring ethnic and sectarian pockets. Fighters from neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon have joined both sides of the civil war.
Turkey has been a staunch backer of the Syrian opposition, letting it organise on Turkish soil and hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. But the rise of Islamist militants in rebel ranks presents it with a growing security risk.
Turkish special forces raided a suspected ISIL hide-out in Istanbul in March, leading to a gun battle, weeks after two members of the security forces were shot dead in southern Turkey by militants suspected of links to militant groups in Syria.
Reporting by Nick Tattersall and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul and Jonny Hogg and Orhan Coskun in Ankara; Editing by Tom Heneghan