After the Paris terror attack and the bombing in Germany, potential lone wolf terrorists and the travel schedules of radicalized Europeans are once more under the lens. As a neighbor of Syria and Iraq, the two countries with areas under ISIS control, Turkey and its border policies are under criticism once again.
When we examine the work and the success of Turkish intelligence in detecting, detaining and deporting the radical fighters before they reach ISIS ranks, we see that the cry of “Turkey lets radicals join ISIS” is an imprudent one.
Starting from the latest disturbing incident, the Charlie Hebdo magazine attack, we see that the attackers might have been stopped if the French authorities had warned Turkish intelligence agencies. Hayat Boumeddiene, the partner of the kosher supermarket attacker Amedy Coulibaly, flew to Madrid from Paris using her own identity, then from Madrid to Turkey – again with her own passport – on January 2.
Upon her arrival at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport, Turkish authorities thought her behavior was suspicious and starting monitoring her moves and informed the French authorities. Even though Boumeddiene was on a watch list in Europe, for some reason, she was not stopped at the European borders by European authorities. However, the monitoring ended because French intelligence had not produced a report about the issue, and Turkish officials had to let her go. On January 7, she crossed the border in to Syria one day before the Charlie Hebdo attack. If the French authorities had asked for her detention and questioned her, there is a distinct possibility that the attack may have been avoided.
In November, Turkish officials arrested Faradje Abidat for the second time in Şanlıurfa while he was attempting to cross from Turkey into Syria to possibly join ISIS. The first time he was arrested and deported, Abidat was released upon arriving in France due to a lack of evidence. These recent examples do not represent a lack of commitment to fight terror on Turkey’s side, but it shows that Europe is perhaps not taking the matter seriously enough.
Turkey has thus far deported 1,056 foreigners and put a travel ban on 7,833 as part of its efforts to stop the recruitment of jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to the head of the National Intelligence Organization. Germany on the other hand, is asking for Turkey to stop German would-be jihadists at the border as it (Germany) cannot stop them for legal reasons.
Who will Support Turkey?
What about the legal framework of Turkey? Who will support Turkey when it bypasses the laws to detain every suspect at any border without the adequate legal framework of detaining someone before they commit a crime? In all fairness, radical terror needs to be tackled where it is born, and that is in the hometowns of the jihadists. After having become radicalized and expressing a willingness to die and become a martyr, these people would find a way to join ISIS even if Turkey never even existed.
Blame is a lazy person’s tool for making sense of complexities and over the last few years we have seen more than enough of this practice, especially in Europe. The Muslim minorities found in European cities gave many recruits to ISIS, the majority of whom traveled to Syria or Iraq through Turkey’s borders. We all know Turkey has an open border policy, especially for Syrian refugees to easily pass to Turkey and for humanitarian convoys to enter Syria; this policy surely opens the door for jihadist passage to Syria or Iraq under the guise of humanitarian aid workers, journalists, non-profit volunteers or other social service members.
The notion that Turkey “allows” terrorists to pass through its borders is a wrong and untenable one since undercover guerrilla fighters or outlaws will always find a way to travel between countries. Moreover, if our desire is to stop the radical threat, we need to be focusing on where these people are radicalized rather than their general route, which means we must look at Europe, their home. It is not a rational or manageable request to ask Turkey to detect, detain and deport the terrorists, who apparently could not be detected or detained back in Europe, where they were radicalized. There is a proverb in Turkish which goes: “the aim here is not to eat grapes but to beat the winegrower;” if the aim of the European nations is to manage their rapidly radicalizing youth, they should not be wasting their time putting the blame on Turkey for all the problems of the Middle East (which I believe were catalyzed by the inhumane interventionist policies of the Western countries).
In tackling the problem of radical recruiting efforts, we as civilized nations, need to showcase better performance on conquering hearts and minds on the Internet. The new-wave of terrorists do not recruit Tamils in Sri Lanka or Chechens or Basques. They use the Internet to recruit. This is what makes the future of these new terror cells particularly more dangerous than those we have seen before.
With global communication systems and digital media, there are no more limits. Ideas can travel to every home, every palace, police station, school or intelligence agency at the speed of light. Trying to block them will not work; if one website is shut down, another pops up the next day. We need to produce more appealing content for people who feel oppressed and in need for a united voice. We need to win their hearts and minds back. We simply need to prove we are more sophisticated thinkers and our arguments are more compelling than the likes of ISIS. Rather than blaming Turkey for letting jihadists cross the border to Syria, we need to stop them from crossing a border in their minds. For this, Turkey and the West must work together.
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