Turkey steps up to stop jihadist flow to Syria, Iraq

Turkey steps up to stop jihadist flow to Syria, Iraq

Fevzi Kızılkoyun ANKARA
Turkey steps up to stop jihadist flow to Syria, Iraq

A group of villagers stand a gate near Karkamış border gate in Gaziantep. Security officials have captured 13 Turks before joining ISIL. DHA Photo

Turkey has been stepping up measures to prevent the flow of jihadists into crisis-torn neighbors Syria and Iraq, amid growing fears that they will return to their home countries and plan attacks in future.

Authorities have begun to talk with families whose children have been recruited by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Terror and intelligence officials have reached up to 370 families and are constructing a profile of the people who have gone to Syria to fight alongside forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

In light of the information obtained from the families, some associations who were alleged to have helped people to cross into Syria are being investigated, including three Istanbul-based organizations that are sending humanitarian aid into the war-torn country.

According to preliminary studies, most of the recruits have an education background from religious schools and loose family ties, with some of them having criminal backgrounds. Security officials have captured 13 Turks before joining ISIL in the last two months and returned them to their families. The families of 163 Turkish citizens have recently applied to the security forces, reporting that their relatives have joined ISIL to fight in Syria.  According to the latest Turkish intelligence reports, there are currently around 600-700 Turks in ISIL. Security measures have recently been intensified along the border against illegal crossings, and thousands of European jihadists were recently blacklisted by Turkey.

Ankara has long championed robust support for Syria’s fragmented opposition, but the growing influence of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the war-torn country has left it open to accusations that it is backing radical Islamists.

Meanwhile, in a related development, European ministers have adopted an “action plan” to tackle the growing national security threat posed by jihadists returning home from Syria, EU counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove said July 8.

A series of measures were approved during a meeting in Milan late July 7 by the interior ministers of Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, according to de Kerchove.

“The details of the action plan remain confidential,” de Kerchove said, adding that they would be submitted to other European countries at the next meeting of interior ministers in October.

“Recent developments in Iraq increase the need to act immediately,” he said, adding that the declaration of the caliphate was likely to prove a potent attraction for would-be European jihadists.

The European Union warned earlier this year that the number of young European Muslims going to fight alongside extremist groups in Syria and countries such as Somalia and Sudan was growing fast.

The fear is that they will return home radicalized and well-versed in the use of weapons and guerrilla tactics, posing a security risk.

The new plan would aim to identify those ready to sign up to fight with extremists and alert other EU countries, making it more difficult for suspects to leave and easier for authorities to follow them on their return and apprehend them if necessary.

Among the measures on the table is a bid to improve the exchange of information through the Schengen Information System (SIS), with non-members Britain and Ireland joining up to the database.

Dutch authorities have already said they will confiscate the passports of citizens they believe want to go to the Middle East to fight.