‘Risk desks’ set up to stanch jihadist flow
Fevzi Kızılkoyun - ANKARA
Passengers wait at the passport control check desk of the international airport in Istanbul on January 29, 2015. The country has long been under pressure to do more to thwart the transit of jihadists across its territory to war-torn Syria. Thousands are believed to have taken commercial flights to Turkish airports before heading overland to Syria to fight alongside ISIL militants. AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSETurkey has taken a new step in its struggle against the flow of foreign fighters heading to Syria via its soil, establishing “risk desks” at airports, border gates and ports in order to prevent potential foreign fighters from passing into conflict-driven Syria.
The entrance of many of the fighters stems from failures in intelligence-sharing with EU countries, according to Turkish authorities.
Following the Jan. 7 terrorist attacks in Paris against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket that left 17 people dead, Ankara rapidly put new measures in place.
Ankara has complained that many European countries, especially France, have either not shared intelligence or provided intelligence belatedly concerning the passage of foreign fighters through Turkish territory aiming to join the ranks of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Because of European countries’ ostensible reluctance to share intelligence, Turkey increased measures at border gates and cruise ship berths.
In addition to risk or crisis desks, interrogation rooms have been established at airports, border gates and ports. Suspects who have entered Turkey have been interrogated there by anti-terrorism and intelligence units. If any sign of connection with a terrorist group is determined following the interrogation, Turkish authorities first contact the home countries of the suspects and share the information they have gathered. Afterwards, the suspects are deported.
In the last one month, 300 suspects, most of whom were citizens of EU countries, have been interrogated upon their entry into Turkey. Among them, 173 individuals whose links with terrorist groups were designated were deported.
Last week, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson announced that Ankara had no information on about 5,000 of the foreign fighters believed to be in Syria, while also updating the number of foreigners blacklisted from entering Turkey over suspected jihadist links.
“There are around 15,000 foreign fighters in Syria. The number of people we have banned from entering Turkey as a result of intelligence sharing is around 10,000. This means there is a gap of 5,000,” spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç told reporters Jan. 27 during a weekly press briefing.
The “around 10,000” blacklisted people is an increase from the previous week, when Bilgiç announced the number as 7,833.