The bodies of 13 Turkish citizens abducted by Kurdish insurgents have been found in a cave complex in northern Iraq, Turkish authorities have said.
Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said 12 of the victims had been shot in the head, while the one had died of a bullet wound to the shoulder. Their bodies were discovered by troops in the Gara region close to the Turkish border during an operation against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
“In searches of a cave, which was taken under control after intense clashes, the bodies of 13 of our abducted citizens were found,” Akar said from an operations centre in Sirnak on the Turkish side of the border.
The victims had been killed at the start of the operation to seize the cave complex, Akar said, adding that “all the terrorists in the cave… have been neutralised.”
The identities of the Turkish citizens were not revealed and Akar said their kidnapping had not previously been disclosed due to security reasons.
There was no immediate statement from the PKK on the killings.
Operation Claw-Eagle 2, which began on February 10, has resulted in 48 PKK militants, including two senior members, being “neutralised,” Akar said, using a term employed by the Turkish military for killed or captured enemies.
Ammunition stores and PKK bases in the mountainous region were destroyed in the operation, which deployed air strikes and helicopter-borne soldiers. The PKK uses bases in northern Iraq to launch cross-border attacks against Turkey.
Three Turkish troops died during the operation and three were wounded, Akar added.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, began an insurgency in Turkey’s majority Kurdish southeast region in 1984.