President Barack Obama’s announcement of his offer to arm and help Syrian rebels fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) may have triggered a surge in recruitment for the terrorist group.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an NGO specializing in the region, reported that more than 162 jihadists joined the group after the September 10 speech. The majority are Syrians; however, four new recruits are Australian, and fifteen are from neighboring Turkey, a NATO country.
The Observatory said the majority of the new recruits are in the Aleppo province, which is in north Syria and around 125 miles from the Turkey border. The Islamic State moved west from Raqqa and Deir al-Zor to capture “territory from other insurgents and occupying strategic hilltops,” stated Rami Abdulrahman, who presides over the Observatory. The CIA estimates that the Islamic State contains around 30,000 members, but Abdulrahman said there are at least 50,000 fighters. The majority of the Syrian recruits were part of Jabhat al-Nusra, “al Qaeda’s official affiliate in the Syrian war and a rival of Islamic State.”
Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party have a well-developed reputation for anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli policies, but one Islamic State fighter claimed they also fund the jihadists.
“Turkey paved the way for us. Had Turkey not shown such understanding for us, the Islamic State would not be in its current place. It [Turkey] showed us affection. Large [numbers] of our mujahedeen received medical treatment in Turkey,” said an unidentified man. “We do not have the support of Saudi Arabia, but many Saudi families who believe in jihad do assist us. But anyhow, we will no longer need it, soon.”
Turkey did not secure its borders when the rebels in Syria rose up against President Bashar al-Assad. Erdogan and his cronies made it known they supported the rebels. In fact, many people from the West crossed into Syria through Turkey to join the Islamic State. The 16-year-old twins, Salma and Zahra Halane, left their Manchester home in England and snuck into Syria through Turkey to reunite with their older brother, who is a fighter with the terrorists. CNN featured the country’s secret jihad route to Syria.
In August, Turkey admitted over 1,000 Turkey nationals joined ISIS. Outside of Arabs, Turkey has the most nationals in the group. One Istanbul-based charity was forced to “suspend its activities after it was criticized for using an insignia adopted by the ISIL.” Hacibayram is right in the middle of the capital Ankara’s tourist district, but residents say it is a hot spot for Islamic State recruits. The capital is almost 500 miles from the Syrian border.
“It began when a stranger with a long, coarse beard started showing up in the neighborhood,” said Arif Akbas, the neighborhood’s leader. “The next thing we knew, all the drug addicts started going to the mosque.”
One man, who asked The New York Times to call him Can, was one of those recruited to join the Islamic State. He said he participated in public executions, but he did not become a full member until he buried a man alive.
“When you fight over there, it’s like being in a trance,” he said. “Everyone shouts, ‘God is the greatest,’ which gives you divine strength to kill the enemy without being fazed by blood or splattered guts.”
Hacibayram resident Mehmet Arabaci told the Times the children in the neighborhood need more help. They found pictures on the Internet of Ozguzhan Gozlemcioglu, one of the first men from the area to join the Islamic State.
“There are now seven mosques in the vicinity, but not one school,” he said. “The lives of children here are so vacant that they find any excuse to be sucked into action.”
A 14-year-old was recruited from Hacibayram and injured in Raqqa. His father and the community noticed the government showed no emotion or effort to find out what happened to the boy and how he ended up in Syria. Aaron Stein with the Royal United Services Institute said there are recruitment centers for these young men.
“There are clearly recruitment centers being set up in Ankara and elsewhere in Turkey, but the government doesn’t seem to care,” he stated. “It seems their hatred for Bashar al-Assad and their overly nuanced view of what radical Islam is has led to a very short–and narrow-sighted policy that has serious implications.”