U.S. stands with NATO ally Turkey over killing of 13 Turks in northern Iraq

The United States condemned the killing of 13 Turkish hostages in northern Iraq at the weekend.

“We stand with our NATO Ally Turkey and extend our condolences to the families of those lost in the recent fighting,” Ned Price, the spokesman of the U.S. State Department, said in a statement on Sunday.

The bodies of 13 kidnapped people were found in a cave in the Gara region of northern Iraq on Saturday during an operation by the Turkish military. According to Turkish officials, they were executed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Is recognised as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

Six of the people were members of the military or gendarmerie and two were police officers, Aydın Baruş, the governor of the Malatya province, said in a televised statement on Sunday. Two of the victims were registered as civilians and three have yet to be identified, he said. The Turkish Defence Ministry published the names and photographs of 10 people killed at Gara on its Twitter feed. They included eight military personnel and two policemen.

Reacting to the deaths, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu vowed revenge against the PKK by capturing and “tearing up into a thousand pieces” the group’s deputy leader Murat Karayılan, who has been based at the PKK’s headquarters in the mountains of northern Iraq. The group’s leader, Abdullah Öcalan, is serving a life sentence in a Turkish jail.

The Turkish air force bombed the PKK camp in Gara where the hostages were located last week during the military operation, the Mezopotamya news agency reported. Two of the hostages were Turkish intelligence officers and nine were members of the security forces or police, it said.

The PKK has fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for almost four decades at the cost of about 40,000 lives, most of them Kurdish. It denies that it commits terrorist acts, saying it is conducting a legitimate armed struggle against Turkish oppression and occupation of Kurdish land.