BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Sixteen Turkish workers abducted in Baghdad earlier this month have appeared in an online video promising their release, days after the U.N. backed a deal to extricate Syrian villagers under siege from rebels supported by Ankara.
The men were kidnapped on Sept. 2 from a stadium they were building on the outskirts of the capital along with two others who were released earlier in the southern city of Basra.
The abductees had appeared in a video days after their capture, apparently held by an armed group that used a familiar Shi‘ite Muslim slogan and threatened to attack Turkish interests in Iraq if its demands were not met.
The new video released late on Sunday showed the men sitting below the same slogan, clean-shaven and wearing T-shirts.
A Turkish official confirmed the identities of the men and said the government was continuing its efforts for their release. Nurol Holding, the men’s employer, said it had seen the video but had no further information.
On-screen text said the captors had decided to release the Turks after civilians besieged by Sunni insurgents in the Shi‘ite villages of Kefraya and al-Foua in northwestern Syria had been given safe passage.
That deal includes the withdrawal of rebel fighters held up in a mostly government-held area near Lebanon. It was reached in talks backed by Iran, which supports the Syrian government, and Turkey, which supports the rebels.
In the video, one of the Turks reads a statement in Arabic, saying the captors had treated them humanely.
“We hope on this holy day of Eid al-Adha that Erdogan will not repeat (his actions) and will respect the innocent people of Iraq and Syria,” the man said, referring to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Eid al-Adha is an Islamic holiday which ended on Sunday.
The video closes with a warning against breaking promises. It makes no new demands and sets no timeline for the Turks’ release.
It is not clear which group is responsible for the kidnapping.
Baghdad has struggled to rein in Shi‘ite armed groups, seen as a critical deterrent against Islamic State militants who control large swathes of the north and west.
The city has also seen a proliferation in recent years of well-armed criminal gangs carrying out contract killings, kidnappings and extortion.
Qais al-Khazali, head of Iranian-backed militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq, has condemned the Turks’ abduction but echoed the captors’ demands.
Reporting By Stephen Kalin and Saif Hameed in Baghdad, Tulay Karadeniz and Orhan Coskun in Ankara, writing by Stephen Kalin and Jonny Hogg; Editing by Michael Georgy