Ninguém sabe quantos são. Podem ser centenas. Ou milhares. Sabe-se apenas que são muitos. Turcos, jovens, oriundos de bairros pobres de Istambul, que estão a ser levados por membros do Estado Islâmico para a região de Raqqa, na Síria, para engrossar as fileiras do mais perigoso grupo terrorista do mundo. A reportagem é da Newsweek.
When Deniz Sahin’s ex-husband phoned out of the blue to say he wanted to see their two young children, the call came as a welcome surprise. The father, a former alcoholic, who had kicked his addiction and turned instead to fundamentalist Islam, had shown little interest in his children for the past year, but she thought they missed him.
“I told him not to be more than two hours,” says 28-year-old Deniz, who weeps silently as she pores over photographs of Halil Ibrahim, 4, and Esma Sena, 10. After their father, Sadik, picked them up from their home in Kazan, near Turkey’s capital Ankara, in April, she never saw them again.
In one of the pictures, which were sent by Sadik a week after their disappearance, a smiling Halil Ibrahim clutches a pistol. The index finger of his other hand is held skyward in a gesture associated with the Middle East’s most feared armed group: the so-called Islamic State, also known by its former acronym Isis. The children now live with their jihadist father in Syria’s Isis-controlled Raqqa province. They are among an unknown number of Turks – potentially in the thousands – being abducted or lured into Syria and Iraq either to populate Isis’ self-declared caliphate or to fight in its bloody sectarian war.
Stories shared with Newsweek in recent days by Deniz and others show the group has sunk its tendrils deep into Turkey, a country that may now be in its firing line after being named as part of a Nato alliance to combat the jihadist group. Many fear Isis has the capacity to wreak havoc in a nation that attracts 35 million tourists a year and whose porous border adjoins Isis-controlled territory.
Last week at a Nato summit in Wales, US President Barack Obama said Turkey was part of a “core coalition” to fight Isis. However, Deniz and other victims of Isis recruitment question their government’s willingness or ability to tackle the terrorist organisation’s infiltration of Turkey. They speak of their frustration at police inaction and of their powerlessness to retrieve their loved ones. In her extended family alone, Deniz says, 15 people – including five children – have gone to live under Isis rule or fight in its ranks in recent months.
Her story is echoed by others in Istanbul, who describe an organised recruiting network operating online and through religious study groups, targeting young men from Sunni Muslim districts plagued by poverty and drug addiction. One family, whose son joined Isis, says that he was among 19 young men from their neighbourhood alone who left for Syria recently, with at least four others planning to join them soon.
In June, Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper reported that as many as 3,000 Turks have joined the group. “No other Nato country is as exposed to the threat of Isis jihadism as Turkey is,” says Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and head of Edam, an Istanbul-based foreign policy think tank. In the past, Western diplomats have accused Turkey of indirectly facilitating the flow of arms and foreign fighters to Isis by operating an open-
border policy with Syria in its eagerness to help the rebels seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad. After the group overran Turkey’s consulate in Mosul in June and took dozens of staff hostage, however, most now agree that authorities in Ankara has woken up to the seriousness of the threat, but may now have its hands tied in responding to it.
Forty nine Turkish citizens, including the consul general, remain Isis’ prisoners. In the past month it has beheaded two American journalists it was holding hostage in retaliation for US airstrikes.
“Turkey is not ‘soft’ on Isis,” a Turkish government official says. “It just avoids unnecessary rhetoric, in particular on the issue of hostages in Mosul.” He adds that “all necessary actions and precautions are being taken” to combat the domestic threat posed by the group.
ISIS IN ISTANBUL
That claim is disputed by the family of Ahmet Beyaztas, a 25-year-old Kurdish car mechanic, who joined the group last month. Speaking at home in the bleak factory town of Dilovasi, a polluted and poverty-stricken community on the fringe of Istanbul, his brother Kenan tells of how local Isis supporters openly displayed its flag in the windows of their cars and homes.
A month ago, Ahmet was among 19 young men from the neighbourhood who boarded two minibuses and headed to Syria to join the fighters. A member of parliament for an opposition party recently told a local newspaper that he believed 90 young men from another nearby town have made a similar journey in recent weeks.
“There are many, many more who are joining. And the police are doing nothing,” says Kenan, 30, a schoolteacher. “I’m Kurdish and a leftist. If four Kurds get together the state will break them apart. Of course they can stop them if they choose to.”
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