Turkish forces shoot dead ferry hijacker


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The Independent Online

Turkish security forces shot dead a suspected Kurdish rebel this morning to end a 12-hour hostage drama on a small passenger ferry, and later reported that he was wearing fake explosives.

They 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. 

Gov. Ercan Topaca of the northwestern Kocaeli province said an examination of the hijacker's body revealed that he had a fake bomb with some electrical wiring. He did not have a gun. 

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 Wednesday evening. 

The ferry zigzagged across the inland Sea of Marmara with coast guard boats on its tail before running out of fuel off Silivri. 

Naval commandos and anti-terror police stormed the ferry just before sunrise on Saturday, instantly killing the hijacker without any return of fire, said Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu of Istanbul province. 

The main Kurdish rebel group has not claimed responsibility for the hijacking, but Mutlu said: "I can clearly say that he was a member of the terrorist organization," referring to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. 

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."

TRT reported that naval commandos swam to the ferry to ensure a surprise strike. 

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 TRT. 

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.  AP