BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Eighteen Turkish construction workers who were kidnapped in Baghdad last week appeared in a video on Friday, apparently being held by a group that threatened to attack Turkish interests in Iraq unless Ankara met its demands.
The three-minute clip circulated online showed five masked gunmen wearing black under a familiar Shi‘ite slogan and the title “death squad”, but it was not immediately clear to which group they belonged.
The authenticity of the video could not be verified and officials in Iraq were not immediately available to comment.
A Turkish foreign ministry official said the video was under analysis.
“Our ministry, our embassy in Baghdad and related institutions have been closely following the developments about the workers since they were kidnapped,” the official added.
Iraqi security forces investigating the Turks’ abduction raided the Baghdad headquarters of Kataib Hezbollah, a powerful Iranian-backed Shi‘ite militia, last Friday but without result.
Demands made in the video reveal a complex web of alliances and rivalries involving parties to both Iraq’s regional splintering and Syria’s civil war.
The video shows eighteen men wearing t-shirts and kneeling in front of the gunmen. The men state their names and the Turkish provinces they come from.
One of them then addresses Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
“We are foreign workers who have come here to earn our bread... We are now victims as a result of some foreign policies, some meaningless, inconsistent business.”
The gunmen do not speak, but demands are displayed on the screen. They include stopping the passage of militants from Turkey to Iraq, cutting the flow of “stolen oil” from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, and ordering the Army of Conquest to lift the siege of Kefraya and al-Foua, Shi‘ite Muslim villages in northwest Syria.
“In case these demands are not met by Erdogan and his party, we will crush the Turkish interests and their agents in Iraq by the most violent means,” the text reads.
The Army of Conquest is an insurgent alliance in neighboring Syria, which includes that country’s al Qaeda wing Nusra Front and has captured Idlib province. A Sunni group, it has been targeting the Shi‘ite Muslim villages of Kefraya and al-Foua in the province at the same time as Hezbollah and the Syrian army have been trying to seize the Syrian town of Zabadani close to the Lebanese border.
The video makes no specific threat to the workers and sets no deadline for a response.
Nurol Holding, the Turkish company which employs them, confirmed their identity but said it had no further information.
Damascus says foreign jihadi fighters allowed into Syrian territory by Turkey have played a pivotal role in Sunni Islamist militant gains in that area. Islamic State swept across the Syrian border in June 2014 and seized nearly a third of Iraq’s territory.
The northern Kurdistan region, asserting autonomy from Baghdad, has ramped up independent oil sales in the past few months via a pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
Reporting by Saif Hameed in Baghdad, Asli Kandemir and Daren Butler in Istanbul and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; writing by Stephen Kalin and Jonny Hogg; editing by Ralph Boulton