The Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) has reported that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been using Turkey as a strategic base to reorganize, posing a threat to the security of Europe.
In a report published on Monday, 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 said. “From here, IS can recover, reorganize and further shape the underground struggle in the region.” AIVD also said the extremist group was able to exploit “the relative peace in Turkey to forge plans to (re)shape its still present international ambitions.”
According to Dutch intelligence, the Turkish government does not consider jihadist groups a security threat. “The fact that Turkish interests do not always correspond with European priorities on the field of counterterrorism is problematic,” the report continued.
Noting that Turkish authorities do act against both ISIL and al-Qaeda but prioritize the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the report stated, “As a result, both organizations have enough breathing space and freedom of movement to be able to maintain themselves.”
According to a report by Kurdistan 24, Ahmet S. Yayla, an assistant professor of homeland security at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, highlighted the disparity of PKK militants to ISIL members in Turkish prisons. According to Yayla, there are over 10,000 PKK members compared to around 1,350 ISIL terrorists in Turkish jails.
“Salafi jihadi terrorism is not considered a primary threat by the Turkish government [led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan]. It has been the trend since the beginning of the Arab Spring,” Yayla told Kurdistan 24.
Yayla, who was the former chief of the counterterrorism department of the Turkish National Police in Şanlıurfa province between 2010 and 2013, said Turkey had not conducted any operations against al-Qaeda or its affiliates since 2014 and that the group“ is considered a friend now.”
Al-Qaeda “openly advised its members not to carry out attacks in Turkey and they said they would support Erdoğan during the elections regardless of how they see democracy,” he said. Furthermore, he said ISIL 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 (FDD), 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 jihadists as long as they are fighting the PKK,” he added. “Turkish courts have a track record of lenient treatment of jihadists, 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.