ANKARA—The extremist Islamist group Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), a splinter group of al-Qaeda which Turkey has supported against the Bashar al-Assad regime during the Syrian civil war, has ironically turned into a threat for Turkey, and now commands a significant percentage of fighters who are Turks, according to the German daily Die Welt, as reported in the Turkish press.
Die Welt reported on Tuesday that it is “completely ironic” that ISIS has become a threat to Turkey now, reminding that Turkey has been accused of directly or indirectly supporting ISIS for some time against the al-Assad regime.
It is estimated that ISIS has about 10,000-15,000 militants in the region. Die Welt claims that 10 percent of them are Turks.
The story written by Die Welt’s Balkan correspondent in Budapest, Boris Kálnoky, reported that most of the non-Arabs in the IS are either Turkish citizens or citizens of European countries who are of Turkish descent.
According to the story, based on information gathered from European intelligence units, since the beginning of the civil strife in Syria about 1,200 militants from Europe crossed into Syria via Turkey to join ISIS, and after fighting there these militants returned to Europe via Turkey. Die Welt suggested that this will inevitably have a negative effect on Turkey’s relations with the European Union.
Die Welt reported that Ankara has information that there are more than 1,000 Turkish citizens who have joined ISIS, an estimated 10 percent of the total number of ISIS militants.
According to the newspaper, European citizens of Turkish origin from Germany, France, Belgium and Austria are also joining ISIS.
Die Welt also suggested that there are some “sleeper cells” in Turkey biding their time to launch attacks inside the country, and the militants in these cells have been trained by ISIS, based on previous reports in the Turkish press.
The report also mentioned the Mosul hostage crisis in which 49 Turkish citizens, including Turkish Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz, other diplomatic staff, special forces members and dependents were taken hostage by ISIS on June 11 of this year.
“Ankara has solved the problem by imposing a gag order on the reporting of the hostage situation. Whoever reports a story about the situation will have to go to court. Therefore, in Turkey there is no such thing as a hostage problem,” reported Die Welt.