Ankara Alarmed Over Qaeda Threat in Syria
With no end in sight to the civil war in neighboring Syria, Turkey is expressing increasing alarm over the al-Qaeda threat amid the growing presence of the group in northern Syria and skirmishes with Turkey’s army this week along the frontier.
A report prepared jointly by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT), the gendarmerie and the Police Department indicated that the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was preparing to attack targets inside Turkey using car bombs and assassinations.
The report and necessary measures were discussed during the weekly meeting of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel in Ankara.
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said Jan. 29 that it had opened fire on a convoy of vehicles in northern Syria belonging to the ISIL jihadist group. The army said the attack, carried out Jan. 28, came after two Turkish military vehicles had been fired upon at the Çobanbey border post.
“A pick-up, a truck and a bus in an ISIL convoy were destroyed,” read the statement.
The incident is believed to be the first time Turkey has come up against the Syrian jihadist group which has been fighting forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as fellow rebel groups in the north of the country.
The report said the Western- and Arab-backed Free Syrian Army had been losing control and that border posts had been seized by groups linked to al-Qaeda. The borders at Azaz, Jarablus and Yayladağı are controlled by the ISIL, and the group has confiscated aid coming from Turkey, according to the report.
The jihadist group has been also battling Syrian Turkmens in the north of the country. The clashes have been continuing for more than a week, local sources said.
The report also said ISIL poses a threat for Turkey and that the group was planning attacks against Turkey, giving the colors, models and license plates of 15 cars which could be used in bombings inside Turkey.
The report urges authorities to be sensitive toward the threat and warned that fake Turkish license plates could also be used. On Jan. 20, a double suicide car bombing at the Cilvegözü-Bab al-Hawa border post between Syria and Turkey killed at least 16 people, including six rebels, according to a monitoring group. The Bab al-Hawa crossing, which is adjacent to Hatay’s Reyhanlı district, is held by a rebel alliance called the Islamic Front, which has been fighting with ISIL. The report said the targets of the bombings were Turkey.
The report also touched on the tracking of Turkish al-Qaeda recruits inside Syria. A total of 315 Turks affiliated with al-Qaeda have crossed into Syria, the report said, adding that 82 of them have died.
Turkey imposed an entrance ban on 1,100 foreigners linked to al-Qaeda and initiated proceedings for 350 foreigners which could use Turkey as a transition route thanks to information supplied by Interpol.
Turkey detained a total of 97 al-Qaeda members that crossed into Turkey between 2011 and 2013, arresting 40 of them.