Two out of 18 abducted Turkish workers have arrived in Istanbul today following an announcement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry that they were released by their kidnappers on Wednesday in the southern Iraqi province of Basra.
Necdet Yilmaz and Ercan Ozpilavci have been reported as being in good condition and reached Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines passenger plane.
Yilmaz said, “The kidnappers have treated us very well. We pray that other abducted workers will also be released,” speaking to the Turkish press upon their arrival.
The other workers are also in good health, he added.
Turkey’s Baghdad Ambassador Faruk Kaymakci said, “We have been continuing intense efforts at all levels in order to secure the rest of our kidnapped citizens to be released in the shortest possible time,” in a statement released today.
Eighteen Turkish citizens were kidnapped in the Shiite district of Habibiya in Iraq's capital Baghdad on Sept. 2. They were construction workers and engineers for the Turkish corporation Nurol Holding which is in charge of building a sports complex in the eastern Baghdad district of Sadr City.
Sadr City is a stronghold of Shiite paramilitary groups.
The Iraqi Shiite militia Furaq al Mawt (Death Squad) announced last week in released video footage that it was responsible for kidnapping several Turkish workers and threatened the Turkish government that it will kill its abducted citizens if certain conditions are not met.
In the video it was said that the Shiite militia might release the Turkish citizens but “[President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan must fulfill the following requirements.”
First, Turkey should prevent armed militants from crossing from the country into Iraq.
Second, “Turkey should stop transporting stolen oil from Kurdistan,” referring to the actions of the Kurdish administration in Northern Iraq led by Masoud Barzani with which Turkey has strong political and economic relations.
The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government has had many disagreements with the central Baghdad government, the selling of oil abroad being the most prominent, and Turkey is one of the region's best partners in the oil trade.
Third, the group accused Turkey of having "militias" in Syria and demanded their withdrawal from the villages of Foa, Kafreyya, Nubbul, and Zahra close to the Lebanese border where the Fatah Army has currently been clashing with Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, according to media reports.
The Shiite militia accuses the Turkish government of supporting the encirclement of the areas by the Fatah Army.
Furaq al Mawt also demanded the Turkish government “order” the Fatah Army and other groups to allow humanitarian help reach to the Shiite areas in Syria's Aleppo and Idlib provinces.
The Shiite group claims that the Fatah Army has been preventing residents from receiving aid in the aforementioned areas. The groups also claim the Fatah Army is a direct proxy of the Turkish government.
“If Erdogan and his party do not meet with these demands, Turkish interests and spies in Iraq will be crushed in the worst possible way,” the group threatened in the video.
Turkish authorities previously declared that their investigations indicate the abductors were not connected with either the outlawed PKK or ISIS.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi called the abductors "the corrupt owners of organised crime,” and said they would receive swift punishment once they are captured.
Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the abduction "We demand the release of the abductees and an end to these practices which harm the image of Islam," in a statement released by the office of Sistani, whose opinion carries sway with millions of Shiite Muslim followers in Iraq and beyond.
Mahdi Army leader Muqtada al Sadr also condemned the abduction and urged the kidnappers to release Turkish citizens.
The Mahdi Army is a prominent Shiite group based in the Sadr City district of Baghdad where the workers were working for the construction project.