Dutch intelligence says IS using Turkey as base to reorganize threats to Europe

Since the start of the Syrian conflict, Turkey “was for a long time a springboard for an unprecedented number of foreign fighters who traveled to Syria from all over the world.”

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) says the so-called Islamic State (IS) is using Turkey as a strategic base to reorganize, posing a threat to the security of Europe.

In a report published on Monday, the AIVD said that since the start of the Syrian conflict, Turkey “was for a long time a springboard for an unprecedented number of foreign fighters who traveled to Syria from all over the world.”

“IS (and also al Qaida) use Turkey as a strategic base,” the report read. “From here, IS can recover, reorganize, and further shape the underground struggle in the region.”

The AIVD also said the extremist group was able to exploit “the relative peace in Turkey to forge plans for its still present [again] international ambitions.”

According to the Dutch intelligence, the Turkish government does not consider jihadi groups a security threat.

“The fact that Turkish interests do not always correspond with European priorities on the field of counter-terrorism is problematic,” the report continued, noting that Turkish authorities do act against both IS and al Qaida but prioritize the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), for instance.

“As a result, both organizations have enough breathing space and freedom of movement to be able to maintain themselves.”

Ahmet S. Yayla, an Assistant Professor of Homeland Security at DeSales University, highlighted the disparity of PKK fighters to IS members in Turkish prisons.  

According to Yayla, there are over 10,000 PKK members compared to around 1,350 IS fighters in Turkish jails.

“Salafi jihadi terrorism is not considered a primary threat by the Erdogan regime. It has been the trend since the beginning Arab Spring,” he told Kurdistan 24.

Yayla, who was the former chief of the counter-terrorism department of the Turkish National Police in Sanliurfa between 2010 and 2013, said Turkey had not conducted any operations against al Qaida or its affiliates since 2014, and the group“ is considered a friend now.”

Al Qaida “openly advised its members not to carry out attacks in Turkey and they said they would support [Turkey President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan during the elections regardless of how they see democracy,” he said.

Furthermore, he said IS does not conduct attacks in Turkey “because it is a natural landing spot for them and the intelligence and law enforcement are friendly toward them.”

“They only carry out operations if it is really necessary,” Yayla added. “Plus, their arrested members get released swiftly.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and now a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Kurdistan 24 the Turkish state considers Kurdish organizations as a more significant threat.

Erdemir said the PKK and its Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), “top the list of existential threats” for Ankara.

“Turkey’s law enforcement agencies have been known at times to turn a blind eye to jihadis as long as they are fighting the PKK,” he added. “Turkish courts have a track record of lenient treatment of jihadis, in stark contrast to [the] harsh treatment of secular dissidents, journalists, and academics.”

“The Turkish government’s double standards have opened up space for jihadi organizations to mobilize, which would not be available to other groups in the country,” Erdemir told Kurdistan 24.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany