Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1204, (3-9 July 2014)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1204, (3-9 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

ISIS, Erdogan and kidnapped Turks

Erdogan is facing fresh ire over allegations of close coordination between Ankara and ISIS — the same group that kidnapped over 90 Turks in Iraq, writes Sayed Abdel- Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

It is shrouded in a heavy cloak of silence the Turkish opposition has been compelled to accept in the interest of the lives of their fellow citizens who were kidnapped in Mosul. Yet voices still can be heard posing questions that simultaneously sound like cries of desperation: “What has happened to our country? Why?”

It is the price being paid by Ankara’s burning obsession to topple Bashar Al-Assad. But he has continued to cling tenaciously to power while Ankara was drawn deeper and deeper into the armed conflict that has no end in sight and the repercussions of which have struck Turkey and its interests both at home and abroad.

It is not just “those with agendas”, as Recep Tayyip Erdogan refers to his adversaries, who are deeply troubled by recent developments and apprehensive of what lies ahead. Individuals who, until recently, were close to the country’s decision-making centres share such sentiments. Not least is Abdel-Latif Sener, one of the founders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) who is now all but forgotten by his countrymen.

Several years ago, Sener opted for the relative tranquillity of academia in the wake of a dispute with his former political partners — primarily Erdogan whose dictatorial bent was becoming more and more glaringly apparent. But it appears that the former vice-president is so alarmed by the troubles the JDP’s foreign policies have courted for the country by sinking it into the Syrian quagmire that he finally felt forced to break his silence. “The terrorists of ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) come over from Syria and Iraq to dine on kebab in southern Turkish restaurants. Then, after rounding off their meals with a cup of tea, they head back to where they came from,” he observed in an angry lament.

That anger and frustration was particularly directed at Erdogan whose policies described as “arbitrary”. Evidence was the alliance that Erdogan’s government struck with ISIS that eventually turned around and pointed its guns at the Turks, occupying the Turkish consulate in Mosul and kidnapping Turkish diplomats, workers and truck drivers.

Sener, who was also a disciple of Necmettin Erbakan, could not help but to wonder why Erdogan, in his speeches, uttered the name ISIS in tones of reverence as though really speaking of an existing state, and how it was that ISIS fighters managed to move so easily back and forth across the Turkish border with Syria or Iraq without even being searched. He then asked the Turkish people to ask Erdogan, “Why are you being so nice to those ISIS people when every other country in the world calls them a terrorist organisation and condemns them for their ruthlessness and bloodthirstiness?”

Did anyone from the JDP offer an answer to their party’s cofounder? Of course not. And the most likely reason was explained by highly placed sources. Aydinlik quoted a senior Turkish security official, whom the newspaper did not identify, as saying that members of ISIS received constant support from inside Turkey as they carried out their activities in Syria or seized control of Mosul and other Iraqi cities. The means used were the Internet, and mobile phone communications with the militants or their sympathisers. Moreover, according to the official, ISIS has also begun to tamper in local political developments. He said that the group’s communication points extend beyond such border cities as Kilis, Gaziantep and Hayay to Ankara and Istanbul.

Further testimony to the ISIS-Ankara connection appeared in Yurt newspaper. On Friday, the Turkish daily published remarks from an exclusive interview with an ISIS militant who spoke of the huge support his organisation received from the powers-that-be in Ankara. Were it not for that support, ISIS would not be where it is today in terms of number of combatants and the vital areas under its control, he said.

As though to corroborate his remarks, that ISIS militant was interviewed in Anatolia where he and fellow militants are being treated for wounds they received in battles in Syria. It should be added that they are not just being treated in hospitals near the Turkish border but also in public and private hospitals in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.

Observers estimate that there are from 2,500 to 3,000 ISIS members inside Turkey. Yet, the government has no intelligence on its possible sleeping cells, on how it recruits terrorists, and on where and how it gets its money. It also has no detailed information on the organisation’s links with other Sunni countries, apart from Qatar.

Amazingly, Turkish security agencies have not prepared any reports on, or taken any measures against the ISIS organisation. It appears that the only information they have on that organisation has been provided by the CIA.

Last year, Turkey finally took the step to brand ISIS a terrorist organisation. Even so, this has altered little in its relationship with that organisation. Indeed, the bonds of cooperation grew closer in the hopes that this would work to bring down Bashar Al-Assad, which it did not.

Some observers have suggested that Erdogan and his fellow JDP leaders have another reason for their restraint in acting against ISIS. The ruling party’s officials fear terrorist reprisals against Turkish cities at a time when the JDP plans to field its leader in the forthcoming presidential elections.

In any case, bit-by-bit the facts are coming to light. Reports in opposition newspapers indicate that ISIS has secured personnel supply lines, via Turkey, to bring in fighters from the Caucasus. It is well known that there is a close connection between ISIS and Chechen extremists.

True, some accounts may be exaggerated. However, there is no doubt that recent developments have cast a pall of fear and anxiety over Anatolia. Among large segments of Turkish society, these sentiments are mixed with considerable anger directed at the government. The following remark in an editorial in Cumhuriyet newspaper captures the mood: “The Turkish hostages in Mosul, who now number 95, are not being held by ISIS but by the JDP.”

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