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Published: Tuesday June 17, 2014 MYT 12:15:48 AM
Updated: Tuesday June 17, 2014 MYT 12:16:51 AM

NATO's Rasmussen calls for immediate release of Turks held in Iraq

ANKARA (Reuters) - NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called on Monday for the immediate release of Turkish diplomatic and security staff held by insurgents in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) kidnapped 49 Turks, including special forces soldiers, diplomats and children, from the Turkish consulate on Wednesday as they overran Mosul.

"We follow the dangerous developments in Iraq with great concern. I condemn the unacceptable attack on the consulate general in Mosul," Rasmussen said during a visit to Ankara, standing beside Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

"We want to see all of the Turkish hostages released and we want to see them safe," he said.

As ISIL's advance halted on the Tigris an hour's drive north of Baghdad, a Turkish foreign ministry official said that staff in Turkey's embassy in the capital and its consulate general in Basra will not, for the time being, be evacuated but that extra security had been requested from Iraqi authorities.

He said that no immediate danger was perceived. Employees were ready to be evacuated if needed.

The ISIL offensive threatens to dismember Iraq and leaves Turkey, a NATO member, facing a widening Islamist insurgency in two of its southern neighbours, with ISIL also making territorial gains in Syria near the Turkish border.

Ankara has the second largest armed forces in the NATO military alliance after the United States. It is hosting six NATO Patriot missile batteries meant to defend it against any attacks from Syria.

The diplomats and soldiers trapped inside the Mosul consulate had no option but to surrender after hundreds of heavily armed Islamist militants surrounded the building, the Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said the hostages are unharmed and that all efforts are being made to secure their release, as well as a second group of 31 Turkish truck drivers also captured by ISIL last week.

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by Nick Tattersall and Dasha Afanasieva; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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