An Islamic State Safe Haven in the Making

The murder of a Turkish policeman by an Islamic State terrorist on August 13, 2017 illustrates the mental mistake of the entire Turkish Ministry of Interior in the war against this terrorist organization.

An ISIS suicide bomber was arrested and detained, but not thoroughly searched by police or handcuffed, which is required of all arrestees. The terrorist had a knife which he used to stab and murder the officer before he was shot to death by a fellow officer. The incident was not simply sloppy police work but an indication that the officers did not consider the detainee a serious threat. Under the ever-growing cloud of radical Islamist propaganda emanating from the Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Turkish authorities continue to see ISIS terrorists as a minor threat.

While the U.S. military is distracted by the conventional hot war against ISIS in Syria and the ISIS-controlled cities of Iraq, Turkey is becoming a command center and logistical hub for ISIS next door.

The wakeup call for Western intelligence agencies came August 3, when they disrupted at the last minute an operation to bring down a passenger jet by an improvised explosive device (IED) shipped via air cargo from Turkey. The bomb was produced with military-grade plastic explosives and electronics.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy in the fight against ISIS recently stated at the Middle East Institute on July 29 that Ankara has been turning a blind eye to the Salafist Jihadist terrorist organizations and claimed there was a direct link between the heavy presence of al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists in Idlib, Syria and Turkey.

Turkish authorities are undermining the U.S. military’s fight against ISIS in Syria. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency exposed the locations of 10 American special forces bases in Northern Syria putting the lives of coalition forces in jeopardy. Major Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway, a Defense Department spokesman, said: “The release of sensitive military information exposes Coalition forces to unnecessary risk and has the potential to disrupt ongoing operations to defeat ISIS.”

The evidence against Turkey as a bad actor is threefold.

First, the supply chain for military-grade explosives for ISIS originated in Turkey. Turkish manufacturers have been the main supplier of arms and explosive materials for the Islamic State, as documented last December by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a research organization funded by the European Union. “CAR’s findings continuously reinforce evidence that the Islamic State operates a major acquisition network in Turkey and has a direct line of supply from Turkey, through Syria, to the Mosul area,” the report concluded.

Second, a new report from Iraqi news media sources claims that the money supply chain also runs through Turkey. ISIS facilitates three different routes for sending money to its territories, according to Daesh Daily, an ISIS-focused news platform.

One route is through Baghdad money exchange offices to Zakho in the Kurdish region of Iraq, then to Erbil, then to Turkey, back to Erbil, and then to Mosul. A second route is through money exchange offices in Gaziantep a border city in Turkey, close to Syria. The third route is between Baghdad and Erbil, then to Gaziantep, then to Zakho, to Erbil, then to Mosul. ISIS used to transfer 3-4 million dollars a day during its peak of affluence in 2015. ISIS even sent around $100,000 a day during the eight-month campaign to reclaim Mosul.

The gold markets are sometimes linked to slave markets. A Yezidi slave woman was sold in a secret market in Gaziantep in late December 2015 and the cash for the equivalent of $15,000 was turned over to the ISIS agent, as filmed secretly and broadcast on North German Broadcasting (NDB).

In my role as chief of counter-terrorism in the Interior Ministry of Turkey until 2013, I monitored money exchange offices and gold shops in Gaziantep, Turkey and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul due to the fact that they sent and transferred cash assets between Turkey and the Islamic State and from Turkey to the rest of the World.

Third, terrorists in Turkey are taking the lead in projecting terror propaganda and training tips to the ISIS cells in other nations. A Turkish ISIS telegram application chat room released on July 3 a 66-page manual titled “the Lone Wolf Handbook” for beginner terrorists aiming to multiply attacks against civilian targets in the United States and Europe. The manual was reposted 16 times over a three-week period, at least 16 times promoting an attack campaign with the hashtag of “lone wolves to the fields.”

Add to these three reasons, the fact that least 2,000 trained ISIS fighters are sheltering inside Turkey, according to the Sentinel, a publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. Those ISIS fighters are backed by a larger dedicated support base of no less than 50,000 people. Approximately 12 million people in Turkey view suicide bombings in defense of Islam as justified, Dr. Alex P. Schmid, a counter-terrorism scholar has written. Turkey is the destination point for radicalized ISIS recruits in the Turkic-speaking states of the Russian Federation and the nations of Central Asia, altogether a population of 90 million.

The fact is, President Erdogan does not consider the Islamic State threat as a priority and often overlooks the ISIS activities inside Turkey’s borders. His regime has never been shy of its hidden and open support to the Islamic State until the middle of 2016.

According to my sources, the decision-makers on Middle East policy, particularly in regards to Turkey, Washington is shifting from Department of State to Department of Defense, which in view of the emerging threat in Asia Minor, is probably a good thing.

Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D.

Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of criminology, law, and society at George Mason University. He is also senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). He formerly served as a professor and the chair of the sociology department at Harran University in Turkey. He also served as the chief of counterterrorism and operations department of the Turkish National Police in Sanliurfa between 2010 and 2013. He is the co-author of the newly released book ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Follow @ahmetsyayla

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