Turkey has not seen data on fugitive ISIL militants from Raqqa, officials say
Turkey has not been given crucial data to help identify Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants who fled their former stronghold in Raqqa last month and may have slipped out of Syria to threaten Turkish or Western targets, Turkish officials said.
Hundreds of ISIL militants and their families were allowed to leave Raqqa by Kurdish and Arab forces who captured the city in mid-October, spokesmen for the fighters and the U.S.-led alliance which supports them said.
The coalition fighting ISIL in Syria and Iraq said last month that biometric information including fingerprints was taken from the militants before their convoy left Raqqa, so they would be known “if they resurface in the future.”
But two senior Turkish security officials told Reuters they had not seen any such data which would identify fighters from Raqqa among the hundreds of ISIL suspects rounded up in security sweeps in Turkish cities over the last two weeks.
“If the United States or the coalition received information about ISIL militants who were withdrawn from Raqqa and is not sharing it with Turkey, how will we fight against terrorism together?” one official said.
“We didn’t receive any biometric data in this office,” another security official said.
A third government official said he believed the biometric data had not been shared with Turkey.
Ankara has bitterly criticized the deal to allow militants to leave Raqqa, saying it suspects some fighters have been smuggled across Syria’s northern border into Turkey and could pose an international threat.
“These ISIL militants, released with their weapons, will cause deaths of innocent people in Europe, the United States, all over the world, especially in Turkey,” Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said last week.
His comments reflect long-running tensions with Washington over its support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia which spearheaded the fight to seize Raqqa from ISIL, as well as Turkey’s complaints at what it says is limited security cooperation.
The YPG is an extension of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkey says weapons supplied by the United States fall under PKK control.
The coalition said around 250 militants, accompanied by 3,000 people it described as human shields, left Raqqa on Oct. 15 under the deal reached by Arab tribal leaders and a local civil council.
In a statement to Reuters, it said a coalition leader had attended talks where the deal was reached but was not an active participant, and it “explicitly disagreed with letting armed ISIL terrorists leave Raqqa.”
The coalition said screening of the departing militants was carried out by YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who took Raqqa, and the Raqqa Civil Council. It referred questions about the biometric data gleaned from the tests to those two bodies.
As far as it was aware “none of the terrorists who departed Raqqa with the convoy on Oct. 15 were able to legally or illegally gain entry to Turkey,” the coalition said, without saying whether it had been able to track them.
Meanwhile, Turkish authorities have stepped up efforts to bring the children of Turkish ISIL militants from Syria and Iraq.
“We know about their situation. We are carrying out all efforts on the issue,” Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said.