Sunday, November 13, 2011

Turkish forces shot dead ferry hijacker

Turkish security forces ended a 12-hour hostage drama by killing a Kurdish rebel hijacker, who commandeered a ferry with 18 passengers, in a pre-dawn lightning raid on Saturday, authorities said. No one else was hurt.

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The hijacker had seized the Kartepe ferry after it set sail from the northwestern port of Izmit on Wednesday evening with the aim of attracting media attention, authorities said.

The ferry, zigzagging across the Sea of Marmara with coast guard boats on its tail, finally ran out of fuel and anchored off the port of Silivri, west of Istanbul.

Elite military and police forces stormed the ferry just before sunrise on Saturday, instantly killing the hijacker without any shootout, said Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu of Istanbul province.

Television crews focusing on the ferry said some people were seen jumping in the sea when gunshots were heard.

"It was a successful operation," Habib Soluk, undersecretary of the transport ministry told state-run TRT television. "None of the passengers or crew members were harmed."

There were 18 passengers on board, including five women, as well as four crew and two trainees, authorities said.

The hijacker had collected all the passengers' mobile phones but at least one crew member, Egemen Erdogan, calmly described the situation inside the ferry in a telephone call to the TRT television.

Naval commandos and anti-terror police forces swam to the ferry for a surprise strike, TRT said.

Mutlu identified the hijacker as "a member of the terrorist organization," referring to the Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK.

It was the second botched hijacking by Kurdish rebels, who fight for autonomy in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast, in more than a decade.

In 1998, security forces stormed a plane on the tarmac of Ankara airport, and shot and killed a Kurdish rebel hijacker armed with a hand grenade who held 38 people hostage aboard a Turkish Airlines plane. The man was protesting Turkey's fight against the rebels. No passenger was injured.

The ferry hijacker possessed some kind of device with electrical cables and a push button but bomb experts were trying to verify whether any explosives were attached, as the hijacker claimed, Mutlu said.

The passengers were quickly brought to the port of Silivri as bomb experts swept through the ferry against explosives, TRT television said.

The Kurdish rebel group has not claimed responsibility for the hijacking.

The rebels have stepped up attacks on Turkish forces in the country's southeast in recent months, killing dozens of Turkish soldiers and civilians. The Turkish military responded by staging an air and ground offensive against rebel hideouts in neighboring Iraq. Turkish police have also detained hundreds of Kurdish activists on suspicion of ties to the rebels.

Tens of thousands of people have died since the Kurdish rebels took up arms in 1984.

In 1996, Chechen militants hijacked a Turkish ferry for four days in the Black Sea to attract world attention to Russia's military drive in Chechnya. The incident ended without any violence.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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