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Middle East Amp North Africa
Turkey faces criticism over border control
From the Financial Times of Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:48:31 GMT
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara July 22, 2014. REUTERS/Umit Bektas (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS)©Reuters

Recap Tayyip Erdogan says those who accuse Turkey of supporting Isis are 'traitors' who cannot back up their claims

Addressing the UN last month, US President Barack Obama appeared to have Turkey squarely in his sights when he declared Washington’s resolve to “stop the flow of fighters” in and out of Syria and Iraq.

Joe Biden, vice-president, said soon after that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, had admitted “too many” fighters were allowed to cross the border – but was subsequently forced to apologise after Mr Erdogan emphatically denied making any such a comment.

Turkey has been subject to frequent criticism in recent months over what critics view as its reluctance to crack down on militants crossing its territory to join jihadi groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis.

Turkey, the argument goes, is so eager to get rid of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and so opposed to Kurdish self-rule in areas contested with Isis that it has been willing to turn a blind eye to the passage of jihadis.

Mr Erdogan denies such accusations, describing those who accuse his government of supporting Isis as “traitors” who cannot back up their claims.

Officials in Ankara maintain that their progress against foreign fighters has gone under-appreciated by western partners keen to distract attention from the failings of their own anti-Isis policies.

Some diplomats – not all of them Turkish – have even gone as far as to suggest that the US briefings against Turkey were aimed partly at hiding deficiencies of its own approach to combating Isis. They note that calls for Ankara to do more came soon after Mr Obama’s gaffe in late August, when he admitted that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for fighting Isis.

Turkish officials insist security along its 900km border with Syria has been visibly tightened, with the ministry of interior instituting increased checks and patrols as long ago as April. Airport screening has also been increased.

Ankara contends that it is its partners who need to step up co-operation and that the root cause of the rise in foreign fighter lies within western societies in which Muslim minorities are sometimes marginalised.

“The issue is about identity and integration,” says a Turkish official, who adds that unless the issues are addressed, foreign fighters may “go back to their own countries but then move on to other places”, such as Afghanistan.

According to the official, Turkey has turned to ethnic and national profiling as part of its efforts to sieve foreign fighters from the roughly 35m tourists who enter the country each year. “We are trying to figure out which airlines they are coming on, which routes, which . . . nationalities,” the official says.

The profiling takes into account factors such as “intensity” – whether foreign fighters represent a larger than normal share of a country’s Muslim population. Such data may be distorted by small sample size, but it highlights the likes of Australia, Belgium and Denmark as countries that may have high levels of radicalisation and recruitment, as well as developed transit networks.

International co-operation has improved, with Ankara deporting 470 suspects so far this year and compiling a “no-entry list” of some 7,000 people from more than 80 countries. But the official highlights Turkish complaints that European countries are not providing complete information, whether because of privacy or other concerns, calling for Interpol to establish an “information hub” on suspicious travellers.

In depth

Iraq crisis

A member of Iraqi security forces stands guard in front of volunteers, who have joined Iraqi army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants from ISIL in Baghdad...A member of Iraqi security forces stands guard in front of volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who have taken over Mosul and other northern provinces, in Baghdad, June 17, 2014. T Sunni Muslim militants attacked a northern Iraqi village inhabited by Shi'ite ethnic Turkmens but were repelled, police said on Tuesday, highlighting an upsurge of sectarian violence after stunning advances by jihadi fighters. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS MILITARY)

As lethal sectarian violence rises the US has authorised air strikes to halt the advance of Isis

Further reading

“If you tell us who these people are before they board the plane, we have a chance to stop them entering the country,” the official says.

But Turkey’s own record on Islamic extremism remains at the focus of international debate.

In recent days, Denmark has lashed out at Ankara for what Helle Thorning-Schmidt, prime minister, terms the “incredibly incomprehensible and unacceptable” release of a Danish national accused of the attempted murder of a newspaper columnist critical of Islam.

Turkey says the release was because of a judicial rather than executive decision. But the Ministry of Justice in Copenhagen told the Financial Times that it still had not received “a full and satisfactory explanation” of the handling of the extradition request, which is backed by an international arrest warrant.

Ankara has also not clarified the terms of an apparent large-scale prisoner swap last month that secured the freedom of 46 Turkish nationals held hostage by Isis. There have also been reports of the release in recent weeks of other Islamist militants held by Turkey.

This article is the latest in an FT series examining the rise of Islamic extremism

Part one: western female jihadis deploy the ‘soft-power’ of Isis online

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