TURKISH SECURITY FORCES shot dead a suspected Kurdish rebel early this morning to end a 12-hour hostage drama on a small passenger ferry.
The hijacker was wearing plastic explosives, authorities confirmed later.
Security forces killed the man in a pre-dawn lightning raid on the Kartepe ferry, which was anchored off the port town of Silivri, west of Istanbul, after running out of fuel. The 24 passengers and crew were unhurt.
Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin identified the hijacker as Mensur Guzel, saying he was the head of the youth wing of the Kurdish rebel group in the northwestern province of Kocaeli.
Sahin said the hijacker was born in the Kurdish-dominated southeast in 1984 and joined the rebel group after escaping from the military in 2009.
He said Guzel was wearing 450 grams of A4 plastic explosives on his body.
A provincial governor earlier had said the man was not armed and wearing empty bottles with some electrical wiring.
The hijacker, seeking to attract attention to Turkey’s fight against autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels, claimed to have explosives on his body and took control of the ferry after it set sail from the northwestern port of Izmit on Friday evening.
The ferry zigzagged across the inland Sea of Marmara with coast guard boats on its tail before running out of fuel off Silivri. Sahin said Turkish coast guards had successfully forced the ship to head for Silivri – a quiet area chosen for the operation.
Naval commandos and anti-terror police, who secretly boarded the ship prior to the raid and posed as passengers for a while, killed the man before sunrise on Saturday, said Sahin. It was not clear whether the man had a gun.
“We tried to convince him to surrender for hours,” Sahin said. “But he refused.”
TRT television reported that naval commandos swam to the ferry to ensure a surprise strike.
The main Kurdish rebel group has not claimed responsibility for the hijacking. But Sahin and other officials insisted that he was a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
Police detained three suspected accomplices of the hijacker in Kocaeli, said state-run TRT television.
Unharmed and free
Television crews that had been filming 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 was 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 some crew members were in close contact with authorities, said Sahin.
Hijacking is not a common tactic of the Kurdish rebels, though in 1998 security forces stormed a plane on the tarmac of Ankara airport, and shot and killed a Kurdish rebel armed with a hand grenade who held 38 people hostage aboard a Turkish Airlines plane. No passenger was injured.
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.
The Kurdish 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.