BY BARNEY GUITON 11/7/14
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobane, Turkish army tanks take position on the Turkish side of the border, October 8, 2014. UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS
A former member of ISIS has revealed the extent to which the cooperation of the Turkish military allows the terrorist group, who now control large parts of Iraq and Syria, to travel through Turkish territory to reinforce fighters battling Kurdish forces.
A reluctant former communications technician working for Islamic State, now going by the pseudonym ‘Sherko Omer’, who managed to escape the group, told Newsweek that he travelled in a convoy of trucks as part of an ISIS unit from their stronghold in Raqqa, across Turkish border, through Turkey and then back across the border to attack Syrian Kurds in the city of Serekaniye in northern Syria in February.
“ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks,” said Omer of crossing the border into Turkey, “and they reassured us that nothing will happen, especially when that is how they regularly travel from Raqqa and Aleppo to the Kurdish areas further northeast of Syria because it was impossible to travel through Syria as YPG [National Army of Syrian Kurdistan] controlled most parts of the Kurdish region.”
Until last month, NATO member Turkey had blocked Kurdish fighters from crossing the border into Syria to aid their Syrian counterparts in defending the border town of Kobane. Speaking to Newsweek, Kurds in Kobane said that people attempting to carry supplies across the border were often shot at.
YPG spokesman Polat Can went even further, saying that Turkish forces were actively aiding ISIS. “There is more than enough evidence with us now proving that the Turkish army gives ISIS terrorists weapons, ammunitions and allows them to cross the Turkish official border crossings in order for ISIS terrorists to initiate inhumane attacks against the Kurdish people in Rojava [north-eastern Syria].”
Omer explained that during his time with ISIS, Turkey had been seen as an ally against the Kurds. “ISIS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria. The Kurds were the common enemy for both ISIS and Turkey. Also, ISIS had to be a Turkish ally because only through Turkey they were able to deploy ISIS fighters to northern parts of the Kurdish cities and towns in Syria.”
“ISIS and Turkey cooperate together on the ground on the basis that they have a common enemy to destroy, the Kurds,” he added.
While Newsweek was not able to independently verify Omer’s testimony, anecdotal evidence of Turkish forces turning a blind eye to ISIS activity has been mounting over the past month.
Omer, the son of a successful businessman in Iraqi Kurdistan, initially went to Syria to join the Free Syrian Army’s fight against Bashar al-Assad, but found himself sucked in to ISIS, unable to leave. He was given a job as a communication technician, and worked at the ISIS communications bureau in Raqqa.
“I have connected ISIS field captains and commanders from Syria with people in Turkey on innumerable occasions,” said Omer.
“I rarely heard them speak in Arabic, and that was only when they talked to their own recruiters, otherwise, they mostly spoke in Turkish because the people they talked to were Turkish officials of some sorts because ISIS guys used to be very serious when they talked to them.”
Omer was then transferred to a battalion travelling to fight Kurdish forces in Serekaniya, north-eastern Syria, and describes travelling through Turkey in a convoy of trucks, staying at safehouses along the way, before crossing back into Syria at the Ceylanpinar border crossing.
Before crossing the border back into Syria, he says: “My ISIS commander reassured us once again that it was all going to be all right because cooperation had been made with the Turks. He frequently talked on the radio in Turkish.”
“While we tried to cross the Ceylanpinar border post, the Turkish soldiers' watchtower light spotted us. The commander quickly told us to stay calm, stay in position and not to look at the light. He talked on the radio in Turkish again and we stayed in our positions. Watchtower light then moved about 10 minutes later and the commander ordered us to move because the watchtower light moving away from us was the signal that we could safely cross the border into Serekaniye."
Once in Serekaniye, Omer says he surrendered to Kurdish forces when they attacked his camp. He was held for several months before his captors were convinced that he had not been a fighter in ISIS and had not taken part in violence.