ISIS Draws a Steady Stream of Recruits From Turkey

By CEYLAN YEGINSU SEPT. 15, 2014 THE NEW YORK TIMES

ANKARA, Turkey — Having spent most of his youth as a drug addict in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Turkey’s capital, Can did not think he had much to lose when he was smuggled into Syria with 10 of his childhood friends to join the world’s most extreme jihadist group.

After 15 days at a training camp in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto headquarters of the group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the 27-year-old Can was assigned to a fighting unit. He said he shot two men and participated in a public execution. It was only after he buried a man alive that he was told he had become a full ISIS fighter.

“When you fight over there, it’s like being in a trance,” said Can, who asked to be referred to only by his middle name for fear
Hundreds of foreign fighters, including some from Europe and the United States, have joined the ranks of ISIS in its self-proclaimed caliphate that sweeps over vast territories of Iraq and Syria. But one of the biggest source of recruits is neighboring Turkey, a NATO member with an undercurrent of Islamist discontent.

As many as 1,000 Turks have joined ISIS, according to Turkish news media reports and government officials here. Recruits cite the group’s ideological appeal to disaffected youths as well as the money it pays fighters from its flush coffers. The C.I.A. estimated last week that the group had from 20,000 to 31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria.

The United States has put heavy pressure on Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to better police Turkey’s 560-mile-long border with Syria. Washington wants Turkey to stanch the flow of foreign fighters and to stop ISIS from exporting the oil it produces on territory it holds in Syria and Iraq.

So far, Mr. Erdogan has resisted pleas to take aggressive steps against the group, citing the fate of 49 Turkish hostages ISIS has held since militants took over Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, in June. Turkey declined to sign a communiqué last Thursday that committed a number of regional states to take “appropriate” new measures to counter ISIS, frustrating American officials.

For years, Turkey has striven to set an example of Islamic democracy in the Middle East through its “zero problems with neighbors” prescription, the guiding principle of Ahmet Davutoglu, who recently became Turkey’s prime minister after serving for years as foreign minister. But miscalculations have left the country isolated and vulnerable in a region now plagued by war.

Turkey has been criticized at home and abroad for an open border policy in the early days of the Syrian uprising. Critics say that policy was crucial to the rise of ISIS. Turkey had bet that rebel forces would quickly topple the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, but as the war evolved, the extremists have benefited from the chaos.

Turkish fighters recruited by ISIS say they identify more with the extreme form of Islamic governance practiced by ISIS than with the rule of the Turkish governing party, which has its roots in a more moderate form of Islam.

Hacibayram, a ramshackle neighborhood in the heart of Ankara’s tourist district, has morphed into an ISIS recruitment hub over the past year. Locals say up to 100 residents have gone to fight for the group in Syria.

“It began when a stranger with a long, coarse beard started showing up in the neighborhood,” recalled Arif Akbas, the neighborhood’s elected headman of 30 years, who oversees local affairs. “The next thing we knew, all the drug addicts started going to the mosque.”

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Categories: Arab World, Asia, Syria, Turkey

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1 reply

  1. Do you see what I mean? Recruits are drug addicts and other misfits and not religiously minded persons. It is the gun in the hand that gives them their new ‘personality’ and ‘power’, which they could not achieve in their real life. No religious arguments are used. ISIS is a terror organization and no religious one.

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