Turkey is determined to fight against growing extremism
- The Turkish government is determined to fight against the impending threat at its borders and growing extremism in Syria and Iraq. Turkey designated ISIS as a terrorist group on October 10, 2013 (and did the same to its predecessor organization in 2005), long before some other members of the international community acknowledged the ISIS threat.
- Stressing that Turkey has suffered from al-Qaeda attacks in the past, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in May 2014 that within the framework of the U.N. Security Council resolutions, Turkey is fulfilling its liabilities concerning ISIS as well as persons and groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.
- In November 2013, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed for a “no tolerance” stance for al-Qaeda-linked groups and added that it was out of the question for Turkey to provide shelter for ISIS or any other extremist group.
ISIS as a direct threat to Turkey’s national security
- The dire situation in Syria and increased presence of radical ISIS militants along Turkey’s 511 mile border with Syria constitutes a direct and serious threat to Turkey’s national security and internal stability.
- Security risks from the ongoing violence in Syrian towns close to the Turkish border directly affect innocent Turkish citizens. Throughout the Syrian crisis, hundreds of Turkish citizens have lost their lives due to the mortar shells being fired across the border, terrorist attacks linked to Syria, and illegal crossings at the Turkish-Syrian border.
- Turkish diplomatic staff in Iraq have also been directly impacted by the ISIS threat. In June 2014, ISIS raided the Turkish Consulate General in Mosul and took 46 staff and family members, including the Consul General, as hostages. The Turkish diplomatic personnel were held for several months before finally, and fortunately, being released
- ISIS militants illegally entering Turkey through the Syrian border have also attempted to carry out attacks inside the country. In March 2014, three ISIS militants murdered 3 Turkish citizens (a soldier, a police officer and a civilian) in a brutal attack when they were stopped by security officers en route to Istanbul. The militants were caught by Turkish security forces a few days after the attack.
- ISIS continues to pose an open threat to Turkey’s national security and internal stability. In August 2014, a spokesperson for ISIS stated that the group would “liberate” Istanbul if Turkey does not reopen a dam on the Euphrates River. In response to ISIS, Turkish Forestry and Water Affairs Minister Veysel Eroğlu warned ISIS, “Turkey is a country that does not surrender to such threats.”
- A July 2015 bombing in the border town of Suruc killed 32 people and wounded more than 100 others. An October bombing in Ankara tied to ISIS killed 102 individuals, and attacks in Istanbul soon after killed 16
Turkey’s economy adversely impacted by ISIS
- The rise of ISIS jeopardizes the economic stability of the heavily populated Turkish border cities with Iraq and impacts thousands of lives. Turkish exports to Iraq in 2013 amounted to $12 billion in revenue, making it the second largest export destination of Turkish goods.
- Prior to the regional unrest, on average 1,700 trucks a day would cross into northern Iraq from Turkey containing exported Turkish goods. In June 2014, ISIS took 32 Turkish truck drivers hostage for almost a month. As a result, today there are fewer trucks that enter daily which transfer exports to Iraq.
- As Iraq transforms into a war zone, the Iraqi import orders are declining dramatically, and have already dropped by more than 40%. Due to the decline in demand and the lack of secure transport corridors for trade, Turkey’s exports to Iraq declined by 30% in July 2014, following a 21% decline in June 2014 according to the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly.
Turkey as the “Lone Gatekeeper” in the face of ISIS and other extremist groups
- Turkey’s border security and control measures along its 511-mile border with Syria focus on two main areas: 1) Preventing foreign fighters from entering Turkey from source countries, and, 2) Preventing their access to and from Syria.
- Turkey has been working actively to counter ISIS and similar groups along its border with Syria. In response to ISIS’ advancement in towns along the Syrian border, Turkey has deployed additional army units to the area between Gaziantep’s Karkamis and Sanliurfa’s Suruc to combat illegal border crossings and armed Syrian smuggler groups.
- Turkey maintains its open-border policy only for humanitarian purposes. In an attempt to increase security, only 3 of the 13 border gates between Syria and Turkey are currently open for entry and exit. Entry and exit of third country citizens are only allowed through two gates.
- 92,428 people were detained by Turkish security forces in 2013 as a result of heightened border patrols and security. 394 of those detained were third country nationals.
- In addition to standard counter-terrorism practices, focused surveillance and vigilant and coordinated intelligence sharing prove to be the most effective tool to determine individuals and groups that may join extremist organizations in Syria. 68 individuals were arrested in Turkey as a result of operations targeting these groups in 2013.
- Turkish security forces also monitor a number of Salafi websites designed for Turkish language speakers whose main goal is to recruit militants for jihadist groups operating in Syria and Iraq.
- Turkey maintains a no-entry list compiled from information provided by source countries of individuals who may join extremists in Syria, the relatives of these individuals and international agencies. The no-entry list, which has grown to 35,000 names, and necessary warnings are distributed to all law enforcement agencies and its branches around the country. As soon as these individuals are located by security forces, their detainment and deportation process begins. The number of individuals, who were denied entry due to the no-entry list was more than 4000 in 2013. These measures by Turkish authorities were adopted long before many source countries of foreign terrorist fighters began to provide intelligence and information regularly.
- While Turkey’s geographical location makes the country a great partner for counterterrorism initiatives, it also renders Turkey a major target of radical terrorist groups. Foreign terrorist fighters also attempt to use Turkey as a transit route to reach conflict areas such as Iraq or Syria.
- In order to prevent foreign terrorist fighters from reaching the conflict areas via Turkey, security measures have been reinforced, including new risk analysis units at the airports and enhanced passenger screening and security checks in regions adjacent to the Syrian border.
- Yet, it is not fair to expect Turkey alone to stop and intervene those individuals who had been allowed to travel from their countries of residence and through other countries in transit with no restrictions, In the same vein, the fact that the flow of these individuals, who radicalize into violent extremism in their own countries, continue is a matter that needs to be addressed.
ISIS as a common threat to international security and peace – A coordinated response needed
- It is estimated that close to 10,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 80 countries are present in Syria and Iraq, fighting along with Al-Qaeda linked groups such as ISIS and El-Nusra Front. Among those foreign fighters are more than 100 American citizens who joined extremist groups in Syria. According to a U.S. senior intelligence official’s statement to the Daily Beast, even “the NSA does not have the ability to track thousands of bad guys” carrying passports from Western countries.
- On both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border, as a result of the recent attacks by ISIS terrorists, thousands of people have been killed, injured and tortured, including people from many races, religions and cultures such as Kurds, Turkmens, Yazidis, Sunnis, Shiites, Christians etc. Many more have also been displaced in Iraq and Syria by ISIS terrorists.
- The permeability of the borders separating Syria and Iraq allows significant mobility to the fighter groups associated with ISIS. In fact, it has become easier for ISIS to conduct extensive terrorist attacks against Iraqi targets and to control areas, most significantly Mosul, thanks to constant flow of reinforcements from the Syrian side of the border. This is, of course, a two-way flow of militants and equipment. These recent developments prove the necessity for a coordinated and international response against ISIS.
- Extremism is a shared menace that we all need to confront collectively. Turkey currently has a close partnership with the United States and hopes to see the same spirit of cooperation and readiness from other countries, in particular the source countries from which foreign fighters are coming. In that regard Turkey, as the co-chair of the Global Counter Terrorism Forum will continue its efforts together with United States to address this matter in a comprehensive manner.