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ISTANBUL (AP) — An intensive diplomatic effort is underway to free 80 Turkish citizens held by militants in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, an official in the Turkish prime minister's office said Thursday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that Turkish officials are talking directly with the militants in Mosul.
The captives include 49 people seized in the Turkish consulate there Wednesday. The militants, from the al-Qaida-inspired group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also seized 31 Turkish truck drivers in Mosul.
On Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held an emergency Cabinet meeting, while NATO's North Atlantic Council, the U.S.-led alliance's primary political decision-making body, met at Turkey's request for a briefing on the crisis.
The crisis comes just two months before a presidential election in Turkey, thrusting foreign policy onto the political stage. Erdogan is expected to run, but has not announced his decision yet. The turmoil in Iraq adds to instability along Turkey's southern border, which is already tense from the war in Syria. It also threatens to create a new wave of refugees for Turkey, which is already hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
The Islamic State aims to create an Islamic emirate spanning both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. It has been able to push deep into parts of the Iraqi Sunni heartland because police and military forces melted away after relatively brief clashes.
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