Turkish Cooperation with ISNovember 8, 2014
A former member of IS (Islamic State) has revealed the extent to which the cooperation of the Turkish military and border forces allows the terrorist group, who now control large parts of Iraq and Syria, to travel through Turkish territory to reinforce fighters battling Kurdish forces.
A former communications technician working for IS, only known by the pseudonym ‘Sherko Omer’, who managed to escape the group, reluctantly told the US magazine Newsweek that in February he travelled in a convoy of trucks as part of an IS unit from their stronghold in Raqqa across the Turkish border, through Turkey and then back across the border into Syria to attack Kurds in the city of Serekaniye in northern Syria. The detour into Turkey had allowed the IS unit to bypass Kurdish defenses and launch an unexpected assault.
“IS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks,” said Omer about this operation, “and they reassured us that nothing will happen, especially when that is how they regularly travel from Raqqa and Aleppo to the Kurdish areas further northeast of Syria because it is impossible to travel through Syria as YPG controlles most parts of the Kurdish region.”
Until last month, NATO member Turkey had blocked Kurdish fighters from crossing the border into Syria preventing them to aid their Syrian counterparts in defending the border town of Kobane. Speaking to Newsweek, Kurds in Kobane said that people attempting to carry supplies across the border were often shot at by border guards.
YPG spokesman Polat Can went even further, saying that Turkish forces were actively aiding IS. “There is more than enough evidence with us now proving that the Turkish army gives IS terrorists weapons, ammunitions and allows them to cross the Turkish official border crossings in order for IS terrorists to initiate inhumane attacks against the Kurdish people in Rojava.”
Former IS member Omer explained that during his time with IS, Turkey had been seen as an ally against the Kurds. “IS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria. The Kurds were the common enemy for both IS and Turkey. Also, IS had to be a Turkish ally because only through Turkey they were able to deploy IS fighters to northern parts of the Kurdish cities and towns in Syria.”
“IS and Turkey cooperate on the basis that they have a common enemy to destroy, the Kurds,” he added.
While Newsweek was not able to independently verify Omer’s testimony, anecdotal evidence of Turkish forces turning a blind eye to IS activity has been mounting over the past month.
Omer, the son of a successful businessman in Iraqi Kurdistan, initially went to Syria to join the FSA (Free Syrian Army) in the fight against the government of Bashar al-Assad, but found himself sucked in to IS, unable to leave. He was given a job as communication technician, and worked in the IS communications bureau in Raqqa.
“I have connected IS field captains and commanders from Syria with people in Turkey on innumerable occasions,” said Omer.
“I rarely heard them speak in Arabic, and that was only when they talked to their own recruiters, otherwise, they mostly spoke in Turkish because the people they talked to were Turkish officials of some sorts. IS guys used to be very serious when they talked to them.”
Omer was then transferred to a battalion traveling to fight Kurdish forces in Serekaniya, north-eastern Syria, and describes traveling through Turkey in a convoy of trucks, staying at safe houses along the way, before crossing back into Syria at the Ceylanpinar border crossing.
He tells about crossing the border back into Syria: “The IS commander reassured us once again that it was all going to be all right because arrangements had been made with the Turks. He frequently talked on the radio in Turkish.”
“While we tried to cross the Ceylanpinar border post, the Turkish soldiers’ watchtower light spotted us. The commander quickly told us to stay calm, stay in position and not to look at the light. He talked on the radio in Turkish again and we stayed in our positions. Watchtower light then moved about 10 minutes later and the commander ordered us to carry on because the watchtower light moving away from us was the signal that we could safely cross the border into Serekaniye.”
Once in Serekaniye, Omer says he surrendered to Kurdish forces when they attacked his camp. He was held for several months before his captors were convinced that he had not been a fighter in IS and had not taken part in violence.
Detained Turkish policemen standing trial on charges of wiretapping have claimed that they were prevented from putting suspects linked to al-Qaeda and IS under close surveillance.
The defense testimony of the policemen was heard at the 9th Izmir High Criminal Court, where 32 police officers are standing trial after they were detained in a number of provinces across Turkey on August 19 on accusations of illegal wiretapping.
Of those 32, 11 were placed under arrest in Izmir. Those arrested include former Batman Police Chief Hasan Ali Okan. Most of the officers detained were involved in a tender-rigging investigation in Izmir as well as in an investigation into an espionage ring allegedly involving members of the military.
Muhammed Suad Çelen, one of the policemen who delivered his defense statement, said all the wiretapping activities were conducted legally and with a court decision, adding that there was no way the policemen could have benefitted from the wiretapping.
Çelen said the police intelligence unit ordered them not to conduct surveillance regarding al-Qaeda after Syria-bound trucks carrying weapons were intercepted in the southern province of Adana in January. He claimed that one Turkish police officer and one soldier were killed by al-Qaeda militants because the terrorists could not be wiretapped. “All of us are now a target for al-Qaeda,” Çelen said.
The detained officers were also involved in an anti-corruption operation that went public on December 17. Prosecutors say the operations against the policemen were launched after allegations of spying and illegal wiretapping, but they are widely believed to be an act of government revenge for the corruption and bribery operation.
Celen’s lawyer, Ali Aksoy, said the primary reason for the trial is his client’s investigation of IS. He added that the intelligence unit chief blocked Celen from conducting work to expose IS militants.
General Lloyd Austin (head of the US Central Command) formulated it this way: “Turkey has skin in the game here, obviously. It’s got a set of concerns and we need to be mindful of that.” Austin added that the coalition would “get it done” with or without more support from the Turks.
“The more access and over-flight rights we can get, the better off we’ll be.”
Gen. Austin was also asked about speculations, that IS was receiving financial aid from US ally Qatar, and how successful the coalition against IS had been at stopping the outside funding of the group.
“I think some things have been done but I think most folks in US government will tell you, there’s a lot more work that can be done and needs to be done,” Austin said.