On June 11, fighters from the Islamic State (IS) stormed the Turkish consulate in Mosul and took 49 consulate staff and their family members hostage. The crisis continues. However, due to a local black out on media coverage, few details about the negotiations with the IS have been released. I have tried to use open source tools to learn more about about the crisis.
To locate the consulate, I used a combination of open source tools. The first thing I did was find the consulate’s address on the Turkish MFA’s website: Dur Al-Dhubat 5/2 Al-Tayaran Mosul, Ninawa, Iraq. The consulate is at the corner of Dur al-Dhubat street. However, the imagery on google earth is from 2004. I had to use Bing Maps to find a more recent picture.
Once I found the building, I then compared it to the pictures the Mosul Consulate posted on its Facebook page. I knew I had the right building when I matched the swimming pool and the tennis court with some of the pictures from Facebook.
The consulate is large. It was built on a lot measuring~270 feet by ~300 feet. This explains the large number of hostages. I then compared this satellite imagery with the pictures used in local media coverage. I then discovered that the picture below – which was taken in 2009 – was taken inside the consulate compound.
The buildings in the photos above are these two:
As you can see, they match these images I captured from this youtube video of the consulate:
and from a wider angle:
I then calculated the distance from Batman airbase to the Mosul consulate. Turkey has three Heron drones at Batman:
These drones are limited to line of sight navigation, which means that they can only fly 250 km from Batman airbase.
In addition, the US has three unarmed Predator drones based at Incirlik. The US shares the intel collected from these platforms with Turkey in real time.
The imagery suggests that Turkey has the ISR platforms needed to monitor the consulate. If the hostages are being held on site, they could, in theory, be monitored from the air. However, available media reports suggest that the Turkish hostages are being held in multiple places. There is no specific information about where the hostages are being held; however, in the case of the 49 Turkish truck drivers who were taken hostage – and then released – they were reportedly held at a power plant where they had gone to deliver diesel. As best as I can tell, the only power plant Mosul is the Mansour Gas Power Plant.
Here is a better quality image from Bing Maps:
In the case of the consulate hostages, it appears as if they have been moved off-site. Ceylan Yenginsu wrote in the New York Times:
The hostages were taken to an improvised ISIS headquarters in Mosul
Unfortunately, this small piece of information does not allow for the use of satellite imagery to identify any candidate buildings.
In any case, I think the more pressing issue has to do with Ankara’s handling of the days leading up to the crisis. The consulate is 8.2 km from the Mosul airport.
Turkish Airlines flies from Istanbul to Mosul four times per week. (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday). Hindsight is always 20/20, but it seems as if Ankara should have had a rescue plan in place for the consulate. The plan need not have involved military helicopters, but rather could have used a charter bus and a commercial flight.