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Turkish forces shot ferry hijacker in raid
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) ' State-run television says Turkish commandos stormed the hijacked ferry and shot dead the lone hijacker.
TRT television says some people jumped into the sea during the raid but it is not clear if any of the 18 passengers aboard were harmed.
The ferry was anchored just off the coast of the town of Silivri, on Istanbul's outskirts.
Coast guard boats and a helicopter were chasing the ferry since it was hijacked on Friday evening after it set sail from the northwestern port of Izmit.
Authorities said a suspected Kurdish rebel hijacker, claiming to possess a bomb, had commandeered the ship.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) ' A ferry with 18 passengers was hijacked off a northwestern Turkish port on Friday and several coast guard boats and helicopters followed the vessel as it approached Istanbul, officials said.
By early Saturday, the boat was anchored about a mile (1.6 kilometers) off the coast of the town of Silivri, on Istanbul's outskirts, and was surrounded by coast guard boats, state-run TRT television reported. Police cars and ambulances were on standby at Silivri's port, the Dogan news agency reported.
Transport Minister Binali Yildirim initially said "four or five" hijackers claiming to act on behalf of the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PKK, seized the ship after it set sail from the northwestern port of Izmit.
But Ercan Topaca, governor for Izmit province, later said the number of hijackers was not known and that a hijacker, claiming to possess a bomb, may be acting alone.
The Kurdish rebels are fighting for autonomy in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast and have stepped up attacks on Turkish forces in that region in recent months, killing dozens of Turkish soldiers and civilians. The Turkish military responded by staging an air and ground offensive against rebel hideouts in neighboring Iraq. Turkish police have also detained hundreds of Kurdish activists on suspicion of ties to the rebels.
The pro-Kurdish Firat news agency, without citing sources, said the ferry was allegedly heading toward the heavily guarded prison island of Imrali, where the Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan is serving a life sentence.
The Hurriyet newspaper's online edition said security at Imrali was increased. Gunboats were patrolling a 5-mile (8-kilometer) no-go area around the island which is sealed with an electrified fence, it said.
The rebels and Kurdish politicians have been calling for Ocalan's release as a condition for peace.
Yildirim told the Anatolia news agency that the intentions of those involved were not known.
"The ship's fuel is about to run out. There was a request for fuel and food. They also asked for equipment to fix a problem in the engine room," Yildirim said. "We are assessing the request. What is important for us is the safety of the passengers."
Yildirim said there were 18 passengers on board, including five women, as well as four crew and two trainees.
Topaca said none of the passengers had been harmed. Families and friends of the passengers rushed to the port where the ferry had set out from, for news of their loved ones.
Authorities suspended other ferry services in the Sea of Marmara as a precaution, TRT television reported.
NTV television said the hijackers had collected all the passengers' mobile phones.
Tens of thousands of people have died since the Kurdish rebels took up arms in 1984.
In 1998, security forces stormed a plane on the tarmac of Ankara airport, and shot and killed a Kurdish rebel hijacker armed with a hand grenade who held 38 people hostage aboard a Turkish Airlines plane. The man was protesting Turkey's fight against the rebels. No passenger was injured.
In 1996, Chechen militants hijacked a Turkish ferry for four days in the Black Sea to attract world attention to Russia's military drive in Chechnya. The incident ended without any violence.