Turkish commandos stormed a hijacked ferry in the waters outside Istanbul and shot the hijacker dead after failing to persuade him to turn himself in, Interior Minister Idris Sahin said in televised remarks.
The operation took place at 5:35 a.m. local time and was run in coordination with the Interior Ministry, navy, coast guard, Istanbul police and Istanbul governorship, the state-run Anatolia news agency said. None of the 18 passengers or six crew members on board were harmed, Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said.
Kadir Altunoglu, a passenger on the vessel, told NTV television he was on the lower deck of the ferry when he heard five or six gunshots on an upper floor.
The hijacker was a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, Mutlu said. The group is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union. More than 40,000 people have died in PKK attacks and in its clashes with security forces since the group took up arms against the state in 1984 to fight for Kurdish autonomy.
Interior Minister Idris said in an interview on NTV that the hijacker was found with three 450-gram blocks of A-4 explosives. Ercan Topaca, the governor of Kocaeli province, said earlier that no explosives were found and the device the hijacker was wearing wasn’t a bomb; it was made from cables and bottles and designed to resemble a bomb. There was no explanation for the discrepancy.
Fighting has increased in southeastern Turkey since Oct. 19 when the PKK attacked and killed 24 soldiers. In retaliation, Turkey sent troops into neighboring Iraq to strike at PKK bases there. PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is in a prison on Imrali Island, off the southern shores of the Marmara Sea.
The pre-dawn raid ended an 11-hour incident that began when the ferry was hijacked around 6:30 p.m. yesterday after departing from the city of Izmit in Kocaeli, on the eastern coast of the Sea of Marmara. The ferry then zig-zagged through the Marmara before anchoring off the coast of Silivri, a district of southwestern Istanbul.
The hijacker requested food and fuel be delivered to the ship and was in contact with security forces, according to Yildirim. Mutlu confirmed the requests, saying, “It’s not possible for us to say what he wanted to do if he’d received additional fuel.”
The hijacker was 28 to 30 years old and had several different identification documents, Mutlu said. Anatolia identified him as Mensur Guzel.
The incident was characterized by relatively low-intensity coverage in Turkish media, with main channels including CNN-Turk, NTV and Haberturk flashing the breaking news in the evening and then relegating it to headline tickers with few updates until it ended.
Turkish media executives agreed on Oct. 20, after being summoned to a meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to report on terrorism-related news with restraint to avoid providing propaganda for the group.
“We evaluated the media’s role in disseminating terrorist propaganda, knowingly and unknowingly,” Erdogan said after the meeting. “We believe that the media can empower our fight on this national matter with a nationalist stance and self-control.”
In a joint statement issued after the meeting with Erdogan, the media groups agreed to rely on official sources for information as much as possible.