The Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet reported Monday that a prosecutor’s investigation had uncovered phone conversations between Turkish military officers and a senior Islamic State jihadist that indicate the military was aiding passage of ISIS jihadists into the Syrian war theater.
The Cumhuriyet report, translated by Zaman into English, claims that transcripts of conversations between unnamed Turkish soldiers and the Islamic State terrorist Mustafa Demir indicate that Demir had been cooperating with the military to secure safe passage of terrorists through the border. In one conversation, Demir requests of a soldier, “Is it possible for you to arrange that I talk with the commander here, regarding the business here?” receiving an affirmative answer. In the other, it appears that a military officer is alerting Demir that he can cross the border at the moment of the call. “Come urgently; I’m in the mine [field] with a torch. Come running,” the soldier says.
“The transcripts and the documents in the investigation revealed that Demir received money — purportedly for zakat [alms] — from smugglers at the border and cooperated with the officers as far as [border] crossings are concerned,” according to Cumhuriyet.
This report was immediately picked up by Russian propaganda outlet Russia Today, which has been working to smear Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the claim that his government has bought oil from the Islamic State. The footage RT published, from the Russian government, claiming to prove that ISIS oil trucks have moved into Turkey was later proven to actually show oil trucks belonging to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq moving a shipment into Turkey. While Erdogan’s government is currently waging a military campaign against Kurdish groups in Syria, it maintains friendly relations with the KRG.
Zaman, the publication translating the Cumhuriyet report, has been openly critical of Erdogan, while Cumhuriyet itself has been among Turkey’s most persecuted journalistic outlets. In January 2015, police raided the offices of Cumhuriyet the night before it was to publish an inset Turkish version of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, then recently a victim of a radical Islamist attack. In November, Turkish police arrested Editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul for clearing the publication of a report in which they claimed to have evidence that the Turkish intelligence agency (MIT) was shipping weapons to anti-Assad rebels in Syria. Both are facing life sentences over the report.
The Turkish government is currently touting its alleged success in keeping Islamic State terrorists out of Turkey. Hurriyet reports that the Turkish General Staff announced Tuesday that 1,220 Islamic State jihadists had been arrested on the Syrian border in the past 14 months. 259 of these were arrested in 2016.
Turkey has announced it has reached its limit in receiving refugees from Syria and has begun to build a wall on the nations’ mutual border. Amid this report, the United Nations is demanding Turkey keep its border open and its territory available to Syrian refugees, though Turkey argues it has taken in nearly two million refugees and has no way of vetting newcomers on the border. “We hope that they are secure where they are, but we would also hope in the end there would be continued Turkish generosity,” UN deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson told Reuters.