Arabic | Kurdish

Hiding in Plain Sight: Turkey’s ISIS Links, Al-Baghdadi’s Last Refuge and the Jihadist-Controlled “Safe” Zone

2019/11/17 | 13:28

(Iraq Now News)- Turkey-backed Syrian Islamic bearded mercenary militants, shouting “Allahu Akbar [God is the Greatest] and printing to the Sky, enter the Kurdish town of Gire Spi (Tel Abyad) in Syrian Kurdistan, Rojava), October 10, 2019.

Photo: AFPSheri Laizer | Exclusive to

“The Turkish-sponsored jihadists abducted me from my home – I am not a PYD member, just an olive grove farmer.

They held and tortured me for three weeks, burning me, threatening to kill me, beating me till they broke my bones and starving me.

Then they demanded a ransom, and occupied my land, expelling me and my family to a distant village so they could seize our home and olive groves.

After my family had paid them for my release, I was so weak I could barely even stand up alone.

I was just skin and bone.

The same jihadists threatened me again that if I should say anything to anyone, they would take me back and kill my wife and children.

This is Turkey’s merciless Kurdish policy.

This is Operation Olive Branch – to destroy our lives and our olive farms.” (Ahmed, 44, name changed, farmer, father of four children).

Kurdish forces have captured or killed an unknown number of these jihadists 1 including members of Ahrar al-Sharqia, (part of the re-named ‘Syrian National Army’ deployed by Turkey), Jabhat al-Shamiya, Firqar al-Hamza, Liwa al-Shamal, Sultan Murad, and others recycled from ISIS inside the Turkish Army itself.

Amnesty International’s report of 18 October 2019 attests to ‘damning evidence of war crimes and other violations by Turkish forces and their allies: “Turkish military forces and a coalition of Turkey-backed Syrian armed groups have displayed a shameful disregard for civilian life, carrying out serious violations and war crimes, including summary killings and unlawful attacks that have killed and injured civilians, during the offensive into northeast Syria….”2

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also blatantly lied to the public about (finally) arresting al-Baghdadi’s relatives after the demise of the terror chief in Barisha, just three miles from the ‘open’ border with Turkey.

After being wounded in Raqqa, Syria, al-Baghdadi had been treated in Turkey for three months, courtesy of the Turkish President, securely transported in Turkish and ISIS tanks.

Hiding in plain sight in Turkey

Al-Baghdadi’s no.

1 wife, Asma Fawzi Muhammad al-Qubaysi, his sister, etc.

had also all been all living under the eyes of the Turkish security services in Reyhanli, Hatay province.

Reyhanli itself is just 26 miles from the metropolis of Antakya.

The ‘arrest’ is little other than another opportunistic sham staged by Erdoğan for public consumption.

After US and Kurdish forces captured al-Baghdadi without Turkish assistance in a Turkish protected enclave 3 along with two of al-Baghdadi’s brother’s wives Erdogan needed some cover: they had all reached Idlib from Raqqa, travelling unhindered through Turkey.

The same middle man also conveyed al-Baghdadi’s children out of Iraq by the same route –a route that Iraqi intelligence briefed the CIA about – not Erdoğan.4 Erdoğan claimed later to have previously detained the wife back in June along with al-Baghdadi’s elder sister, a brother in law, daughter in law and five children in Azaz, saying he hadn’t made a fuss about it!5 In fact, they were given protection and freedom.

Other al-Baghdadi relatives and ISIS notables were also being looked after by the President’s men in Reyhanli, Antakya, Adana, Konya and Gaziantep.

Al Monitor published back in 2014 contemporary with ISIS seizing control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq: “All these groups like the Islamic State (IS), Jabhat al-Nusra and what not, come and go through here,” a Reyhanli resident told Al-Monitor, asking to remain anonymous.

“Take Mustafa Demir.

He is from here.

But IS has given him an emir position in Raqqa… The local security directorate can be found on this street.

“Do you see this barber shop?”… The barber shop is about 300 meters (984 feet) away from the security directorate.

“That barber’s name is Omer Demir.

He is the IS recruitment officer here.

If you are going to join them by going through Turkey, here is the first contact you make with IS… A top security official from the Adana counterterrorism department came here with his crew.

They talked to the people and brought the situation under control.

But then we learned that there are seven sleeper cells here, and that they are all closely monitoring them, as well as Omer’s activities…” 6

This was five years before the death of al-Baghdadi, two wives and three of their children, all killed in the explosion when the slayer detonated his suicide vest…’Monitoring?’ No, rather, liaising and cooperating.

Erdoğan and MIT, the Security Directorate, knew full well that al-Baghdadi was in Idlib.

This was their area.

They were in regular contact with the ISIS figurehead and his people who frequently came across into Turkey, after being compelled to leave Raqqa.

The day after al-Baghdadi’s demise, IS spokesman, Abu al-Hassan Al-Muhajir was killed in Ain al-Baydah near Jarablus, which has also been under Turkish military control since Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016.

Wounded Islamist extremist fighters entered Turkey and were freely in Reyhanli while student housing blocks became bases for training fresh fighters.

The wounded jihadists were first treated in public hospitals or field clinics on the border, and the more senior among them in private hospitals, including former Al-Qaeda affiliate Ahrar al-Sham members.


Erdoğan ’s government has groomed, trained and armed the plethora of jihadist extremists under the guise of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ from the outset, hosting their meetings in Turkey and subsequently recycling Ahrar al-Sham, al-Nusra, ISIS, Liwa al-Shamal, and other extremists through the Turkish army and special units, back into Syria and Iraq.

MIT directly armed these groups as well as engaging in the transport and sale of IS oil.

A “Safe” Zone only for Jihadist terrorists

The area controlled by Turkey is not a “safe zone” for anyone but the Turkish-sponsored Islamist extremists that are given a free hand to behead, rape and slaughter their foes to the accompaniment of barbarous yells of ‘Allahu Akbar’, just as the footage taken of the first days of the FSA extremists clearly shows.

The consequences will be dire for all.8

Since Idlib literally became a ‘safe zone’ for Islamist terrorists under Turkey’s protection after the AKP’s successful experiment with the savage invasion of Afrin, Erdoğan was confident that NATO and his Western partners would permit him to continue with little more than mere mutters of complaint.

No adequate redress has been presented to compensate the hundreds of civilians whose livelihoods and properties have been stolen and who are still being dispossessed in Afrin by Turkey’s jihadist proxies.

Erdoğan has made it clear from the outset that his prime interest was not in pursuing ISIS but his Kurdish foe – a foe with who he could have negotiated peacefully but he is not a peaceful man.

The Turkish border was left porous for some 40,000 foreign fighters to freely boost the number of ISIS and al-Nusra hardliners such that they were able to cross back and forth freely.

These same killers then carried out the worst massacres, rapes, beheadings and other barbaric punishments seen this century, including the barbarous slaughter on 12 June 2014 of some 1700 Shi’a conscripts from Camp Speicher in Tikrit, Iraq – executed with shots to the head, one after the other, before pushing their bodies off a landing into the Tigris or hastily burying them in mass graves.9 Erdoğan has never expressed criticism of the beheadings and murders.

Former AKP PM, Ahmet Davutoğlu, said of ISIS they were just angry young Muslim kids and avoided calling them terrorists.10

ISIS camp Speicher victims, Massacre site, Tikrit, Iraq, 2019.

Photo: ©Sheri Laizer via Ekurd

Prior to declaring a ‘caliphate’ in Mosul on 29 June 2014, al-Baghdadi was reported to have been in Ankara.11 In September 2014, ISIS conveyed Turkish Embassy staff from Mosul safely to the Turkish border from Mosul.12 The West used the ‘plight’ of the diplomats as an excuse not to censure Turkey’s lack of participation in the fight against ISIS.

When in post as US vice president, Joe Biden warned Turkey not to keep helping the fundamentalists in 2014 and detailed how Turkey was helping ISIS and other groups saying: “Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria,” he said, explaining that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were “so determined to take down Assad,” that in a sense they started a “proxy Sunni-Shia war” by pouring “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons” towards anyone who would fight against Assad.13

Among other details collated in an extensive research paper by David L.

Phillips, ISIS-Turkey Links: “CNN Turk reported on July 29, 2014 that in the heart of Istanbul, places like Duzce and Adapazari, have become gathering spots for terrorists.

There are religious orders where ISIS militants are trained.

Some of these training videos are posted on the Turkish ISIS propaganda website

According to CNN Turk, Turkish security forces could have stopped these developments if they had wanted to… A senior Egyptian official indicated on October 9, 2014 that Turkish intelligence is passing satellite imagery and other data to ISIS…Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu warned the AKP government not to provide money and training to terror groups on October 14, 2014.

He said, “It isn’t right for armed groups to be trained on Turkish soil.

You bring foreign fighters to Turkey, put money in their pockets, guns in their hands, and you ask them to kill Muslims in Syria.

We told them to stop helping ISIS.

Ahmet Davutoğlu asked us to show proof.

Everyone knows that they’re helping ISIS.” (See HERE and HERE.) According to Jordanian intelligence, Turkey trained ISIS militants for special operations…” 14 On his visit to Turkey in 2015 Joe Biden held a press conference and was rebuffed by Erdoğan for his criticism, so spoke only with the opposition.

When al-Baghdadi made his first recorded announcement after five years at the end of April 2019 from an unknown location, the mainstream Western media claimed it to be some ‘remote corner’ of Iraq or Syria when it was in fact Turkish-controlled Idlib, and anyone familiar with the area could see from the furnishings behind the bearded speaker where this was most likely to be.

Al Baghdadi is also shown being handed a file marked Wilayet Turkiye (hence detailing his plans for the Islamic State in Turkey).15 Even a man in prison, Kurdish political prisoner, Huseyin Baybasin, held hostage in a deal between the Turks and the Dutch, could see this location was Idlib and wrote saying so in May this year.16

Turkish Intelligence agents, including Ahmet Yayla, who left the security organisation in dismay, has denounced MIT’s involvement with ISIS.17 Sources still working inside the organisation that do not wish to be named and who share Yayla’s moral outrage have also confirmed that al-Baghdadi and his relatives were taken good care of by Erdoğan and that the recent ‘arrests’ are no sudden chance discovery.

Abu Mansour al-Maghrebi has been named as the ‘Ambassador’ between ISIS’s intelligence (EMNI) and Turkish Intelligence (MIT), initially based at the border to facilitate the flow of foreign fighters and co-operate at the ‘gates’ with Turkey as well as reaching agreements with MIT for the injured fighters to receive treatment: “I passed the borders and they let me pass.

[At the border] the Turks always sent me a car and I’m protected.

A team of two to three people from our side were with me.

I was in charge of our team most of the time… there was not even any passport control at the gates and the public hospitals were treating the wounded fighters free of charge.

“When the person gets injured, there is a hospital in Syria, and this hospital sends him in a car to the border.

There were ambulances on the Turkish side waiting for this person.

There were doctors who disliked Bashar.

They treated our guys.

The MIT …was made aware of every critical situation and they sent the ambulances to the border.

There were also hospitals close to the border.

Those who received critical care were treated there and they [the MIT] sent the others all over Turkey depending on their needs.

There were very interested doctors, Syrian and Turkish, who wanted to help.

So, if there were not facilities to serve them on the border, they would be sent further into Turkey for this…”18 Al Baghdadi was one of the wounded ISIS personnel to have been able to receive such medical care in Turkey.

According to Turkish security source leaks, once restored to health al-Baghdadi was filtered back into Syria and retained his dialogue with MIT.

The AKP government had all along continued to facilitate ISIS recruitment and training.

The Phillips report noted: “Kerim Kiliçdaroğlu claimed on October 14, 2014 that ISIS offices in Istanbul and Gaziantep are used to recruit fighters.

On October 10, 2014, the mufti of Konya said that 100 people from Konya joined ISIS 4 days ago.

(See HERE and HERE.) OdaTV reports that Takva Haber serves as a propaganda outlet for ISIS to recruit Turkish-speaking individuals in Turkey and Germany.

The address where this propaganda website is registered corresponds to the address of a school called Irfan Koleji, which was established by Ilim Yayma Vakfi, a foundation that was created by Erdogan and Davutoğlu, among others.

It is thus claimed that the propaganda site is operated from the school of the foundation started by AKP members…”19

Erdoğan had created the Free Syrian Army and the US could later find no better ally than the Kurds in Syria once ISIS got out of hand.

As the YPG were already fighting to save the Yazidis when Turkey was arming ISIS in Kobani, the US saw them as the major player in the Syrian Democratic Forces and as viable strategic partners, despite certain elements that were pro-Marxist.

A CHP delegation to Kobani was told on 24 September 2014 that everything ’from the clothes ISIS wears to their guns comes from Turkey …and Turkish officials were among them.’ Fleeing villagers were obstructed from being helped by their fellow Kurds on the Turkish side of the border in Suruç and Urfa, whereas the ISIS militants were being allowed to flow freely back and forth by the AKP government.20

The war against ISIS served as further justification for US forces to remain in both Syria and Iraq and became a major distraction for the public at home.

Throughout the period from June 2014 to November 2017 when Mosul was retaken, despite weak criticism of Turkey, Erdoğan continued his support for the jihadists, undermining NATO from within and working with Russia’s Putin against Western interests.21.

In 2016, I forecast the US would very likely abandon the Kurds once the job against ISIS was considered sufficiently redressed in Syria.22 This is because Trump and his cohorts had planned all along to betray the Kurds of the PYD/YPG in NW Syria once ISIS had been brought to heel, despite the proliferation of equally dangerous groups courtesy of Turkey.

The Pentagon sought to secure the Syrian oil fields just as the US and Britain had done when staking claims to Iraq’s oil through the illegal invasion of March 2003 following years of secret preparation.

The various other jihadist groups sponsored by Turkey, including Sultan Murad, are no better than ISIS and perpetuate the same extremist Islamist ideology, even threatening to kill Kurdish children.23 Women were soon being forced to wear the niqab; beheadings began to take place, as well as torture and wanton killings.

Horrific images were soon being circulated on social media.

Turkey and Qatar have long been working in Libya 24 as well as in several African countries, 25 organising recycled ISIS fighters and supporting them with all means necessary.

Qatar has provided funding while Turkey has taken care of training, arms and transportation.26 The UAE and Saudi have acted in the same manner.27

Former Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu 28 announced in June 2019 that he would be forming a new party with Abdullah Gül and Ali Babacan in the autumn of 2019, stating they were worried over the wrongful path the AKP was taking.29 Davutoğlu himself admitted that they had been wrong in allowing ISIS militants to freely cross from Turkey and did not permit proper investigation despite knowing the group’s terror actions.

Turkish soldiers and Turkey-backed Syrian Islamic militants near Gire Spi (Tel Abyad) in Syrian Kurdistan, October 2019.

Photo: AFP

Erdoğan meanwhile announced his plans for reshaping Kurdish Rojava, deploying Arab and foreign recycled Al Qaeda and ISIS jihadists under the guise of returning refugees to an area with which they have no former connection.

According to the plan, before “relocating” 1 to 2 million Syrian refugees to the Kurdish lands, Turkey would invest an estimated $26 billion (151 billion Turkish lira) for construction and infrastructure.

“Turkish capitalists are waiting for this (presumably state-assisted) opportunity with sparkling eyes, which is one of the reasons why all their chambers and associations immediately declared full support for Turkey’s “heroic armies”…”30 Nothing other than blatant ethnic cleansing.

Chemical weapons have been used, including white phosphorous.


Venal US and British politicians (including Boris Johnson and Lord Janvrin, the Tory trade envoy to Turkey), rewarding Erdoğan’s terror in the name of commerce ought to be ashamed.


US’s duplicitous strategy has had terrible consequences for the Kurds, Christians and minorities that were relatively safe in NW Syria before the invasion after the defeat of ISIS.

Seth Frantzman emphasised how “A review of the timeline of official US statements, including Trump’s tweets and Department of Defense statements, reveals that the US State Department played a key and leading role in working with Turkey on the safe zone concept.

It is also clear that much of the details about where Turkey would invade and take over was already presented in July or August.

In fact, maps had been circulating by that time.

Turkey took its concept to the UN in September.

The US knew that Turkish artillery and tanks were deployed and that Syrian rebel groups, many of them extremists who openly took videos saying they would ethnically cleanse, behead and murder local people, were on the way to the invasion… It only took Turkey three days after Trump’s decision to begin bombing… The US… referenced the “long-planned” operation.

Turkey had been provided with joint patrols and flights over the area it intended to take over in August and September.

The US had urged the SSDF to withdraw and also to remove any defensive positions.

The US had thus paved the way to make the invasion as easy as possible, while paying lip service to opposing it…The US didn’t warn or provide any humanitarian aid for those like Hevrin Khalaf, who were murdered.

Children bombed in Qamishli received no US diplomatic support, in fact the US has never even acknowledged them or any of the estimated 300,000 people displaced…33

Smoke rises from the Syrian Kurdish town of Serêkaniyê (Ras al-Ain) in Syrian Kurdistan, on the third day of Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish forces, October 11, 2019.

Photo: AFP

Where are the thousands of other ISIS fighters that were in Turkey?

Erdoğan has imprisoned some 120,000 intellectuals and critics of his policies since the ‘coup’ of July 2016, including writers, journalist, judges and alleged Gulen members yet Turkey is only formally detaining 1,149 ISIS prisoners – of which he claims some ‘several hundred’ to be Westerners.

The very low number speaks volumes.

34 This is because Turkey has been redressing ISIS fighters in the uniforms of the Turkish army and Free Syrian Army, (now the Syrian National (aka jihadist) Army) and recycling them back into Syria.

Erdoğan’s repatriation plans are intended to remove those Western ISIS fighters that he cannot recycle so easily, threatening that ‘Turkey will extradite them no matter what.’

In Iraq, a high proportion of ISIS detainees, including ISIS wives, are Turkish nationals.

(The many thousands of others include Uyghurs 35, Tajiks, Kazaks, Uzbeks, Russians, Kosovars 36, Tunisians, Egyptians and others that were directly fielded by Turkey into Iraq and Syria.37) Had Turkey secured the border with Syria and Iraq as it ought to have done by any standards ISIS could not have seized control of huge parts of those countries resulting in the terrible destruction and enormous loss of life.

In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces had been holding some 70, 000 ISIS suspects in various camps overall, including at least 10,000 fighters.38 The Kurdish forces ended up holding between 13,000 – 11,000 of them after the fall of Baghouz.39 Erdoğan recently let several hundred of these slip from detention through his bloody invasion and then praised his forces for capturing some women and children.

The White House had aimed to give Turkey full responsibility for ISIS prisoners! The fox in charge of the chicken coup.

Joshua A.

Geltzer, a former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council in the Obama administration observed, “It’s hard to imagine Turkey has the capacity to handle securely and appropriately the detainees long held by the Syrian Kurds — and that’s if Turkey even genuinely intends to try.”40

Trump had just begun to take over the transfer of some so-called high level ISIS prisoners from the Kurds but once he had signaled to Erdogan that Turkey could establish its terror zone, the Kurds rightly ceased to trust him.

End Turkey’s support for fascist Islamist fundamentalist terrorism

NATO must take serious steps to punish Turkey for its war crimes under Erdoğan ’s leadership, and not turn a blind eye while just invoking the euphemistic ‘security concerns’ when none had been posed by the Kurdish forces.41

Trump is to hold a news conference with Erdoğan on the very day the House’s public impeachment proceedings commence.42 Perhaps before long justice will be served and both heads will roll.43

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