Turkish authorities have not acknowledged any links with Al Qaeda despite the many documents and information to the contrary. The passports used by the three Tunisian Al Qaeda militants arrested by Afrin public security forces is further proof of this relationship. They show that the three Tunisians passed through Istanbul Ataturk Airport to Antakya and then crossed the border into Syria from Cilvegozu border gate officially.
According to the information given by the Al Qaeda militants, a group calling themselves ‘Iman’ formed of Turkish military officers, facilitates the cross border incursions and provides hospital treatment.
Relations between Turkey and Al Qaeda, and especially its Syrian wing the Al Nusra Front have been reported several times. However each time Turkey has tried to hide its connections and support for Al Qaeda by claiming that they are ‘helping their brothers and sisters’ in Syria. The information given by the three Al Qaeda militants brings to light new details about the relations between Turkey and Al Qaeda or the Al Nusra Front.
FROM BENGHAZI TO SYRIA…
Essabi Musa, one of the arrested three militants, said that he lived in Benghazi, Libya and met with a man named Ebu Ziyad who recruited him and sent him to Syria through Turkey. 35 year old Musa said: “My brother and I were working in Benghazi. First Al Qaeda recruited my brother and sent him to Syria. I found one of the people who had recruited him, it was Ebu Ziyad. He told me that if I wanted to see my brother I would have to join Al Qaeda and come to Syria. I agreed to this and joined. A few days later he told me that my ticket was ready. The ticket was for Istanbul. I came directly to Ataturk Airport. From there I flew to Antakya and then straight across the border from Bab El Hava (Cilvegozu) into Syria.”
From Cilvegozu border gate Musa went straight to the Al Qaeda camp in Idlib, Tixarim and was trained for 21 days before being sent to camps in other areas. Musa continues: “There were 120 people in the camp I was trained at. Most of them were Tunisians and they had all crossed over from Turkey. Alongside the Tunisians there were also Turks, Algerians and Egyptians. In total they numbered as many as the Tunisians. There are also many people I know who have come here and fought and returned to Turkey. None of them were detained or arrested. We were constantly in contact with them over the phone. From the camp they took us to Duveyle, Ermenez, Teftenez, Binnis and Dane, which are all in Idlib. I began working actively there.”
Stating that he had been in Syria for 8 months and that all he had seen was the futile death of people, Musa said he wanted to escape and return to his country. Saying that he would use the route through Turkey to return home, Musa emphasised that it was impossible for Turkey to not know that they had come to fight for Al Qaeda.
TURKISH MILITARY OFFICERS’ BATTALION
Another of the arrested Tunisian Al Qaeda militants is 26 year old Nadir Elwassani. He too was recruited by Essabi Musa in Libya and sent to Turkey through the same route. Elwassani also stated that it was not possible for Turkey to not know that they were Al Qaeda militants, he said: “I was also recruited in Libya and sent to Istanbul, where I was met by a man named Ebu Besir Tunusi. He took me to a hotel and then the next day sent me to Hatay (Antakya).”
Elwassani said that he was met by Al Nusra members at the border gate and taken to the camp in Idlib before adding: “We crossed into Syria from Turkey and were supposed to return home from Turkey. It is impossible for Turkish authorities to not know this because we were greeted by Al Qaeda members at every stop and sent here by them. The Turkish Intelligence Services are very organised, they must know this.”
Elwassani also shared some important and new information about the relations between Turkey and Al Qaeda and Turkish organisations operating in Syria. He particularly talked about a group called ‘Iman’ formed of Turkish military officers operating in the Atme region of Syria. “Our relations with Turkey were coordinated through this group. The representative of this group is Ebu Abdo Esseyef. He was providing guns, ammunition and provisions for us through this group. Furthermore injured friends were being taken to hospitals in Turkey and treated by this group.”
AL QAEDA ON BOTH SIDES
Yusuf Ekkari, the final member of the three arrested men was Nadir Elwassani’s friend while still in Tunisia and was recruited in Libya when both young men were working there. Ekkari entered Istanbul ten days after Elwassani and crossed over into Syria using the same official route. Ekkari claims that there are Al Qaeda militants on both the Turkish and Syrian sides of the border working to recruit members for the organisation. He adds: “I was studying at university in Tunisia and went to Libya to work for a while. I fell into this trap. They told us Americans, Germans and other groups were in Syria massacring Sunnis. The TV channels were also espousing this propaganda and they used these. Within 15 days they had got me a ticket to Istanbul. In Hatay I was met by someone named Ebu Hasan, who introduced me to Ebu El Amareyn, the man who took me over the border from the Cilvegozu border gate. Ebu El Amareyn from Latkiye, lives in a village on the Turkish side and openly works for Al Qaeda, he took me over the border without any trouble and handed me over to someone named Ebu Ahmet, who then took me to the training camp. I have been in Syria for about four months. Eventually I saw that the things we were told were not true, so I ran away and tried to return home through Turkey.”
The statements and passports of the three men arrested by Afrin public security forces once again highlights the secret relations between Turkey and Al Qaeda. The official stamps on their passports and the detailed information about the individuals working within Turkey and Syria to recruit militants for Al Qaeda shows how inextricably linked Turkey and Al Qaeda are.