ISTANBUL, Nov 12 – A Kurdish rebel who hijacked a Turkish ferry with 24 people aboard was killed early Saturday and all his hostages brought to safety after an ordeal of more than 12 hours, authorities said.,
“Soon after the beginning of an operation (by Turkish security forces), the hijacker was captured dead,” Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu told NTV private television.
The governor said the hijacker, about 30 years old, was “a member of the terrorist organisation”, referring to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
He had been carrying explosives, added Mutlu.
The ferry, named the Kartepe, was hijacked around 1600 GMT Friday in the sea of Marmara, where PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is jailed on an island.
Transport Minister Binali Yildirim earlier spoke of four or five hijackers, but Mutlu said there was only one.
All the passengers and crew were safe, the governor added, as television footage showed them being evacuated with boats.
Security forces under the command of Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin boarded the ferry off the coast of Silivri, west of Istanbul around 0335 GMT on Saturday.
Yildirim said 18 passengers, five of them women, four crew and two interns were aboard the vessel, which was making its normal route in the northern Marmara sea when it was seized.
The hijacker told the ferry’s captain that he wanted media publicity, mayor Ismail Karaosmanoglu told NTV. Yildirim added that the attacker had conveyed demands for food and fuel through the captured captain.
The explosive found on the hijacker would be analysed by bomb experts.
Nearby boat and ferry trips between Istanbul and Yalova, about one hour apart, were cancelled after the attack, media reports said.
The island of Imrali, where Ocalan, the jailed PKK leader, is held, is about 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of the hijacking spot. Turkish media say the hijacker was assumed to be heading for the island.
“Measures were boosted around the island of Imrali where PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has not been allowed to meet with his lawyers for months, is being held,” said the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency.
Patrol boats had been deployed and kept watch in a five nautical mile no-go area around the island, it added.
Pro-Kurdish demonstrations are regularly held in Turkish cities in support of Ocalan, who is still considered the PKK’s chief despite his imprisonment.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms for Kurdish independence in southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.
Clashes between the PKK and the army have escalated since mid-2011.
A surge of attacks by PKK rebels also caused civilian deaths in Turkey, prompting the Turkish military to launch in October a cross-border operation against rebel hideouts in northern Iraq.
The army operations were mostly concentrated in Turkey’s southeast as well as a few areas in the north of Iraq.
Observers say the military action was in response to a domestic outcry but offered no solution to the root of the problem.