Paris terror suspect Hayat Boumedienne’s recent escape from France to Syria has renewed concern about Turkey’s ability and willingness to prevent terrorists from transiting through its territory.
Boumedienne is the romantic partner and alleged accomplice of Amedy Coulibaly, who was shot dead by police after killing four people in a kosher supermarket and shooting a police officer in Paris on Jan. 9. Airport footage shows Boumedienne’s arrival from Madrid to Istanbul on Jan. 2, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu said she crossed the border to Syria six days later.
Turkey has been the subject of intense criticism from Western governments and commentators over its perceived lack of effort in stemming the flow of foreign fighters crossing its borders. However, some think this isn’t quite fair.
“I think it’s somewhat of a misplaced criticism,” said Sinan Ülgen, a scholar at Carnegie Europe. Though the Turkish government may have formerly looked the other way at the activities of Islamist groups because of a desire to bring down the Assad regime at any cost, “that policy by and large had changed by April 2014,” according to Ülgen.
At that time, Interior Minister Efkan Ala made an effort to enhance border security, “having realized the risks of getting into that sort of relationship with extremist groups,” said Ülgen. However, researcher Gareth Jenkins says it’s still very easy for foreign fighters to cross through Turkey.
“When you look at the ease with which [terrorists and would-be fighters] are able to go back and forth across the border, there still isn’t a full clampdown,” Jenkins said. “It’s not as easy as it used to be, but it’s still pretty easy.” He said he recently personally witnessed fighters in a Turkish village near the Syrian border. “There were jihadists sitting around waiting to go across.”
With some 40 million tourists visiting Turkey every year, border security is no easy task, but Jenkins says security forces could be doing a lot more. He claimed that difficulty over border security isn’t the only reason for Turkey’s failure at curbing the flow of foreign citizens seeking to join the ranks of ISIS and other groups.
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