‘Wannabe jihadist’ nabbed in Turkey due to geography gaffe

‘Wannabe jihadist’ nabbed in Turkey due to geography gaffe

Mesut Hasan Benli - TRABZON
‘Wannabe jihadist’ nabbed in Turkey due to geography gaffe Turkish authorities have prevented a Dagestani man from joining the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) thanks to his mistake in presuming that Ankara is a seaside city.

The 26-year-old law student, H.A., joined the pro-ISIL community of a mosque in Russia’s Dagestan Republic six months ago, his family told daily Hürriyet. The family started to monitor the man after many of his friends joined ISIL for “jihad” in Syria. However, he managed to briefly fool the family and left the house by saying he was planning a holiday in Turkey. 

H.A. contacted ISIL recruiters in Istanbul on July 20 and stayed at an ISIL cell for the following three days. Together with three other young men from other Muslim-majority republics of Russia, H.A. embarked on a journey to the southern province of Hatay on July 23.

The three wannabe jihadists sat in separate seats in the bus on their way to the Syrian border as per instructions from more experienced ISIL members. They arrived in Hatay, managing to hide their identities and ambitions, but H.A. had made a serious mistake.

‘Only 2 km away from sea in Ankara’

While sending messages to his twin brother in Daghestan when he was still in Istanbul, H.A. said he was “having a holiday in Ankara and that his hotel is just two kilometers from the sea.” 

His father, knowing well that Ankara is a landlocked province, became alarmed at the subterfuge. He came to Turkey on July 22 and contacted Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) officials in the Black Sea province of Trabzon.

The MİT quickly launched a plan, security sources told daily Hürriyet in Trabzon. The twin brother sent another message to H.A., pretending he wanted to join ISIL, too. “Either let me join you or come back,” he said in a Whatsapp message. 

H.A. was convinced to flee the ISIL cell in Hatay’s Reyhanlı district before they crossed the nearby border where MİT officials finally found him on July 28. Turkish authorities then contacted the family and both parents came to Trabzon to take their child on Jul 30.

‘Emotional’ son rejects ISIL link

“We thank Allah. We are grateful to the Turkish state,” the father, E.A., told Hürriyet during a family reunion in Trabzon, warning that ISIL’s propaganda influenced his “emotional” son who attended Friday prayers at a mosque.

‘Wannabe jihadist’ nabbed in Turkey due to geography gaffe

The young man, however, said he never had the intention of joining ISIL but was forced to stay in a room in Istanbul and forcibly taken to Reyhanlı by “unknown men” he met at the airport. “They had told me that we were Muslims and we have to fight in Syria. I couldn’t escape them in Istanbul, but I was able to do so in Reyhanlı. I missed my family so much,” he told Hürriyet, insisting that he had visited Turkey for a holiday.

“It was so hard for us. I prayed for days. I think this is a gift from Allah. It’s like starting a new life,” the young man’s mother, A.A., said.