Turkey should not be excluded from anti-terrorism league
Hans-Georg Maassen, Germany’s domestic intelligence chief, said in an ARD TV interview on Jan. 11 that Turkey was a “key country” in countering the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as well as "other terrorist organizations,” because “well over 90 percent” of radicals traveled into Syria through Turkey. Maassen urged the Turkish government to take “further measures.”
The interview was broadcast hours before Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. Both had been at the historic Paris rally a day before in solidarity after the murders at French weekly Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7 by terrorists with links to radical Islamist armed organizations in Syria and Iraq.
In the press conference with Merkel after the meeting, a question on ISIL was asked to Davutoğlu that annoyed him. He made a number of remarks in response:
1- Turkey had passed on timely information regarding Hayat Boumedienne, the suspect wanted in relation to the Paris killings, before France had even asked for information about it. (Boumedienne had traveled from Madrid to Istanbul, and stayed there until Jan. 8, when she went to Syria. That means she was in Turkey when Charlie Hebdo was attacked and in Syria when the kosher market raid and final shootout took place in Paris on Jan. 9.)
2- Turkey has blacklisted some 7,000 names of “foreign fighters” so far in relation to terrorism in Syria and Iraq and so far deported 2,000. Davutoğlu stated that this cooperation – confirmed by Merkel – would continue.
3- Turkey was never going to close its border with Syria in order to not let terrorists cross, with refugees escaping from the attacks of the Syrian regime.
I have personal doubts about the sustainability of the last item, but that is not relevant now. What is relevant for the Western system, which has legitimate fears because of foreign fighters, is to consider Turkey as part of the central team in the anti-terrorism fight, not as a partner whose door you only knock on when you need it.
That seems not to be the case now.
For example, law enforcement officials of 11 countries, plus EU officials, met in Paris on Jan. 11 to discuss the security risks that have escalated since the Charlie Hebdo raid. The U.S. and Canada had nine EU countries discuss border security and intelligence sharing issues - France, Britain, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden.
Turkey is regarded as a main conduit for foreign fighters who risk going back to their homes after being trained by al-Qaeda and ISIL in Syria and Iraq, but Turkey - which is a key NATO member - was not invited to that meeting. This is a contradiction.
It is understandable that there could be a particular mood regarding Turkey’s suspected tolerance of armed groups in Syria - as long as they keep fighting against Bashar al-Assad - but in such a critical fight, there should be no place for such sentiments. Plus, it is always good to keep Turkey in the central game, both for Europe and to prevent Turkish politics from being affected by the strong centrifugal forces in the Middle East at the moment.
There are going to be two more important meetings against terrorism in February. The first one on Feb. 12 is expected to be in Brussels by the EU Commission. Turkey has not received any invitation yet, despite being an EU candidate country as well as a player in the region. The second is on Feb. 18 and is expected to take place in Washington DC under the auspices of President Barack Obama. Sources say the level of this anti-terrorism summit is not clear yet, but the Turkish government has yet to receive any invitation to that meeting either.
It would be a mistake to exclude Turkey, the sole northern neighbor of both Syria and Iraq, from these meetings. The Turkish government is capable and should be encouraged to draw lessons from its mistakes, just like all other governments. To win a friend over, including them in the game is always better than leaving them out.