Turkish police detained 19 suspects in a recent operation against the Islamic State in Istanbul. Sixteen of them were foreign nationals, Alican Uludağ wrote in an article for Deutsche Welle Turkish, highlighting an increase in the numbers of foreign ISIS members in Turkey.
The recent raids stem from a 2021 operation when ISIS member Muhammed el Ali was captured in the central Anatolian province of Çorum. Digital material obtained from searches among Ali’s property provided Turkish police with photos and videos taken in conflict zones, showing ISIS members fighting and executing prisoners.
The police also confiscated propaganda videos and ISIS members swearing allegiance. In total, there were some 3,000 ISIS members seen in the images. Further investigations revealed that a large portion of the ISIS members seen in the videos were currently residing in Turkey.
In May, police captured three suicide bombers in Istanbul, Bursa and Şanlıurfa (Riha) provinces. High-ranking ISIS operatives were also arrested in raids in Istanbul, Bursa, Sakarya, Adana and capital Ankara.
In June last year, a search of captured ISIS executive Kasım Güler’s possessions showed maps to weapons caches the group buried in six provinces in Turkey, and Güler confessed to plans to set up training camps in three provinces.
The rise in foreign-nationals captured in the ISIS raids and the evidence obtained from them suggests ISIS may be shifting its base for operations to Turkey, following its defeat in Syria and Iraq.
ISIS has had to transform after its defeat in Syria, according to İlke Işık, a lawyer defending the victims of the 2015 Ankara Train Station bombing, where two ISIS suicide bombers killed 103 people and injured hundreds more during a jointly organised opposition rally calling for peace. ISIS militants who had used routes through Turkey when they travelled to Syria to join the fundamentalist terrorist group later used the same routes to return to Turkey, Işık said.
ISIS suspects’ testimonies during trial pointed to Turkey as the easiest location to resettle for the militants after the group’s defeat, the lawyer said.
The capture of fugitive suspects in the Ankara Bombing case is crucial to reveal the true extent of the danger of ISIS operations in Turkey, Işık said. “If the Interior Ministry is sincere in its efforts against ISIS, it will show in the amount of effort they put in to find the fugitives in our case. But so far we have seen nothing concrete.”
There are 16 suspects at loose in the case, including ISIS’s Turkey chief İlhami Balı.