Islamic State militants are reportedly abandoning ISIS as it loses territory and fleeing to Turkey, with foreign recruits leading the retreat.
According to the UK Guardian, at least two British nationals and an American citizen have joined the “exodus” from the Islamic State. The American is 46-year-old Kary Paul Kleman of Florida, who surrendered to Turkish border police last week, bringing a Syrian wife and two widows of slain ISIS fighters with him.
The British defectors claimed they were not fighters but settled in Syria to become citizens of the “caliphate.” Kleman moved first to Egypt and Dubai after converting to Islam, then claims to have brought his family to Syria to assist with a “humanitarian effort” that turned out to be a “scam.” He was reportedly trying to reach the U.S. embassy in Turkey when he was arrested by border police.
CNN spoke with a smuggler who said Kleman contacted family members, the CIA, and possibly the FBI to arrange his exit from the Islamic State but apparently didn’t get the help he wanted, so he made a run for the Turkish border on his own.
Turkish prosecutors could seek up to 15-year sentences for these refugees from the Islamic State, while the U.K. could press terrorism charges that carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. It is also possible the authorities will decide the returnees are not a threat.
The Guardian sounds an alarming note about foreign recruits fleeing the collapsing Islamic State and seeking to carry out terrorist attacks in their home countries, to take revenge for the defeat of ISIS. There may already be up to 250 such trained terrorist operatives in Europe. Foreign recruits for other extremist organizations active in the Syrian civil war, such as al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, are also a concern.
Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College pointed out to the Guardian that ISIS “projected a narrative of momentum and success” to recruits, and it’s impossible to maintain that narrative when so much of the caliphate’s territory has been recaptured.
The Daily Star quotes Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. John Dorrian of the U.S. Air Force warning that the threat of foreign recruits making it back to their home countries, with the motivation and training to conduct terrorist attacks, cannot be dismissed.
“This is why there has been such a significant effort to isolate places like Raqqa to limit the ability of the enemy to depart Syria and move up into Europe,” Dorrian said.
A knockout punch has not yet been landed against the Islamic State’s Iraqi capital of Mosul. The Independent relates the horrifying story of ISIS militants who disguised themselves as Iraqi officials, drew a crowd of men, women, and children in central Mosul to greet them, and then shot them to “make it clear the area was still under enemy control,” as a Joint Operations Command official put it.
Various estimates suggest there are up to 5,000 foreign recruits still alive in the Islamic State, potentially preparing to return to Europe and the United States.