Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala told reporters this week that the government has prevented more than 36,000 people from crossing into Syria to join the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
“Speaking about this organization [ISIL], we have denied entry to 33,746 people from 123 countries,” he explained. “In total 2,783 people from 89 countries were captured in Turkey and deported, in order to prevent their entry into Syria, where they would have joined terrorism activities.”
His statement comes just after Turkey completed its largest investigation into ISIS. Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Murat Çağlak authored the 315-page indictment, which named 67 suspects, including “leading militants” who led ISIS groups in Turkey.
The youngest suspect is 19 years old, while the oldest is 49. The Hürriyet Daily News reports:
İlyas Aydın, 26, was stated in the indictment as the chief militant of the terrorist organization’s Turkey branch. The indictment carried a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for Aydın, on charges of “forming and heading an armed terrorist organization.”
It stated Aydın called would-be jihadists to join ISIL on pro-ISIL social networks and that he delivered religious speeches in mosques and ostensibly Islamic-holy places.
The other ISIL leader was identified as Halis Bayancuk, a senior ISIL leader based in Istanbul who was arrested in an Istanbul raid in late July this year, in the indictment, with his jihadi nickname stated as “Abu Hanzala.” Bayancuk faces up to 10 years in prison on the charge of “being a member of a terrorist organization.”
The indictment stated an ISIL militant under arrest, Asaad Khelifalkhadr, who was detained with a fake passport. Khelifalkhadr is facing up to five years in prison on a charge of “fabricating false documents.”
Khelifalkhadr was stated in the indictment to have welcomed prospective militants coming from abroad to join the fight in conflict zones in Iraq and Syria, and provided them with accommodation. Khelifalkhadr, whose jihadi nickname is “Abu Suheyf,” was stated to conduct recruitment activities for ISIL, met the medical needs of prospective militants and carried out activities to finance the organization.
The Turkish government took more than a year to decide to join the fight against ISIS. Its move was preceded by a suicide bombing that killed 32 people in Suruç, as well as the murder of a Turkish soldier by an Islamist terrorist.
During that year, various media outlets reported alleged evidence tying Turkey to ISIS. In June 2014, an ISIS member told The Jerusalem Post that Turkey provides funds for the terrorist group. Jihadists captured Azaz, a key town in Syria near the border of Turkey in September 2013. That is significant because Turkey “vocally supported the fight against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and allowed weapons to cross into Syria on its southern border.” The capture of Azaz allowed easier access to the jihadists. Two months later, CNN featured Turkey’s secret jihadi route to Syria.
A Turkish nurse, known only as E.G., working in a border town, complained to authorities that she is tired of treating members of ISIS. She said she is “disturbed” the militants receive treatment in Turkish hospitals even though they hold several Turkish nationals as hostages. She claimed the men check in under false names.
Officials also discovered evidence at the compound of Abu Sayyaf, an ISIS leader, that links ISIS to Turkey.
“There are hundreds of flash drives and documents that were seized there,” he said. “They are being analysed at the moment, but the links are already so clear that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara.”
ISIS placed Sayyaf in charge of oil smuggling, which lined its pockets with millions of dollars. The evidence at his compound allegedly highlights NATO member Turkey as one of its top clients.