Turkiye’s ambivalent relationship with Daesh
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month announced that Abu Hussein Al-Quraishi, the leader of the terrorist organization Daesh, was “neutralized” by Turkiye’s National Intelligence Organization, MIT. This news did not make headlines in Turkiye because of the country’s heavy election agenda.
He was the fourth Daesh leader killed in the last four years. The first was Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. He blew himself up in the north of Syria in October 2019, when he was cornered by US forces in the village of Barisha in Idlib, very close to the Turkish border. He was the one who had proclaimed the Daesh “caliphate.”
A second Daesh leader, Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Quraishi, was killed on Feb. 3, 2022, again in the north of Syria in a place 1 km from the Turkish border and just a few hundred meters from a Turkish-controlled checkpoint. He came from a Turkmen family, though the US classified him as Arab in a 2008 census. His father was a muezzin in Tal Afar in the north of Iraq. One of his brothers, Amer, had served as the head of the Turkmen Students Union. Official Daesh sources classified him as belonging to the “Turkified” branch of the Quraish tribe, whatever that means. He completed his master’s degree in Mosul and was appointed in 2007 as Al-Qaeda’s general religious judge and later the deputy emir for Mosul.
There was a third Daesh leader, Abu Al-Hassan Al-Hashimi Al-Quraishi, who was killed on Oct. 15, 2022, in Deraa by US forces. He is the exception among these Daesh leaders as he was killed in the south of Syria, not at the Turkish border.
The fourth Daesh leader was Abu Hussein Al-Quraishi. Erdogan announced that he was killed on April 29. When Erdogan announced his death, he expected gratitude from the international community as, when terrorists are caught or killed by the US, they announce it with great fanfare. But the international press gave only lip service to the news about Turkiye’s performance on this subject. The US said it was not able to confirm the killing, thus casting doubt on Erdogan’s statement.
Abu Hussein Al-Quraishi was killed in Jindires, near Afrin in northwest Syria, in a place controlled by Turkiye and its Syrian auxiliaries that was only 6 km from the Turkish border. He detonated his suicide vest to avoid being captured.
The locations where many of these Daesh leaders were killed offer telling evidence of another aspect of the story. With the exception of one, they were all killed in Syria in a place extremely close to the Turkish border. Most of these areas are controlled by the Turkish army or its auxiliaries. This is an indication that Daesh does not want to give up its interest in remaining close to Turkiye. It considers that Turkiye’s conservative government offers it a suitable atmosphere for its activities. Though it nestles in areas close to Turkiye, it avoids committing terror acts there because it considers this an environment where it may stay in security and consolidate its structure.
The locations where many of these Daesh leaders were killed offer telling evidence of another aspect of the story.
On the other hand, Turkiye is a member of the Global Coalition Against Daesh that was formed in 2014. However, it has been accused of financially and militarily supporting Daesh, according to a report by a former UN adviser. This is a claim that Ankara persistently denies.
Kasim Guler, codenamed Abu Usama Al-Turki, was listed as one of the most wanted members of Daesh in Turkiye. He was arrested in Syria on June 15, 2021, by the Turkish security services and judged in Ankara. He was punished with a 30-year prison sentence because he was planning to move Daesh activities to Turkiye by buying farmhouses and storing weapons and ammunition, burying them in the gardens. In other words, Ankara was keeping Daesh at arm’s length.
There has been further evidence of ambivalent relations between Turkiye and Daesh. It started with Ankara opening its borders with Syria and making Turkiye a highway for Daesh terrorists. Daesh benefited a lot from Turkiye’s tolerance. The group has transferred weapons, money and terrorists from Turkiye to Syria. It also organized blasts in various Turkish cities, in which hundreds of Turkish citizens perished.
Turkiye facilitated the illicit transfer of oil from Northern Iraq to Mediterranean harbors in cooperation with Daesh, despite the strong opposition of the Iraqi central authorities.
After Daesh lost its domination of vast swaths of land in Syria and Iraq, it focused its attention on Turkiye.
A new scandal broke out last month, when a retired Turkish colonel, Umit Ozturk, released a video online. During a visit to Germany, he was interrogated at the airport for about 45 minutes by the German and American authorities. The reason for this was that he was holding a Turkish service passport, which are documents issued to a select group of public officials, allowing them to visit many countries without a visa. When Ozturk asked the reason for his interrogation, the German authorities told him that several service passports had been found with Turkmen and Uzbek fighters trained by Turkiye in Syria.
The background of this investigation is also revealing. A Yazidi woman identified in a restaurant in Germany a man who had kidnapped and sexually abused her when they were in Syria. This man turned out to be the holder of a Turkish service passport. When the German authorities dug further into the affair, it turned out that there were other Turkish service passport holders in Germany. Ozturk investigated and found out that these were not fake, but were passports issued by the Turkish authorities. This incident shows where all these unorthodox practices lead.
Briefly, Ankara uses Daesh fighters to the extent that they serve its purpose.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party.