An ISIS fighter captured by Syrian Kurds last month described how easy it was for him to cross Turkey’s notoriously porous border into Syria to join the Islamic State, according to a new video obtained byAl-Monitor.
Turkish citizen Huseyin Mustafa Peri, who says he was wounded near the Turkish border, told his captors that getting into Syria “was an easy affair.”
Al-Monitor says it was unable to independently confirm details because Kurdish fighters would not allow him to be interviewed, noting that his statements aligns with the outlet’s reporting.
“[IS recruiter] Ibrahim Osama had given me a number … I was told to go to [the southern border province of] Gaziantep,” Peri says in the video, translated by Al-Monitor.
From there, Peri was transported to the Syrian border, where there were no Turkish soldiers in sight — all he had to do was run.
“I was with three or four Indonesians and three Uighurs,” he recalls. “The smuggler told us to run fast … I saw no soldiers … I just ran for 50 meters [164 feet] and encountered no problem.'”
Peri’s experience, which echoes other accounts, highlights the relative ease with which foreign fighters, weapons, and cash have been able to flow across the Turkish border into ISIS-held territories of Syria.
The relaxed border policies Turkey adopted between 2011-2014 enabled extremists who wished to travel to Syria and join the rebels in their fight against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey officially ended its open border policy last year, but not before its southern frontier became a transit point for cheap oil, weapons, foreign fighters, and pillaged antiquities. Smuggling networks all along the nation’s 565-mile border with Syria managed to emerge and flourish while the policy was in place.
Consequently, “Turkey is a fertile breeding ground for IS and other extremist groups,” Levent Gultekin, a former Islamist commentator, told Al-Monitor in an interview.
A substantial security presence in Turkish towns directly across the border from ISIS-held territory has been noticeably absent: “They [Turkish border guards] are very tough with the Kurds and the areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army, but with areas across from ISIS not so much,” a Turkish smuggler told the Daily Beast’s Jamie Dettmer.
“It isn’t hard to cross into the Caliphate,” he said.
ISIS lost a crucial “back door” into Turkey early last week when Kurdish forces ran the militants out of Tal Abyad, cutting off the terror army’s supply route for weapons, cash, and foreign fighters into Syria. Still, the militants have multiple “back doors” to Turkey and will likely try to open new supply lines in the coming weeks and months.
Successfully cutting off these supply lines could be the beginning of a strategy to cripple ISIS, but it would require action on both sides of the border.
“The Turks have been less than cooperative,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, told Business Insider. “The border between Turkey and Syria has remained incredibly loose.”
If comments made by Turkey’s President Erdogan following the fall of Tal Abyad to the Kurds are any indication, increased cooperation by the Turks remains improbable.
“The West, which is hitting Arabs and Turkmens of Tal Abyad from the air, is sadly settling the PYD [Democratic Union Party] and PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] terror organisations in their places,” Erdogan said in a June 11 statement.
“Erdogan’s anger is obviously based on the loss of the de facto buffer zone that had severed contiguous links between [Syrian Kurdishareas] and the arrival of elements he perceives as enemies to the Turkish border [the Kurds],” Fehim Taştekin wrote in Al-Monitor last week.
“Ankara wasn’t upset when this buffer zone was captured by what is now IS in 2013.”
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