The BBC exclusive by Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati, uncovering a secret deal to allow hundreds of ISIS fighters to escape from Raqqa, has confirmed what we suspected all along, namely, that as ISIS gets driven out of its strongholds in Syria, there will be new battlegrounds elsewhere.
It was already known that the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were overseeing an evacuation of the ISIS fighters and their families from Raqqa.
What the BBC investigation uncovered was that the deal agreed by “local partners” giving a safe passage to 3500 IS family members and 250 fighters, got executed under the gaze of the Americans. The so called “dirty deal of Raqqa” enabled ISIS to spread across Syria and beyond its borders.
The meticulous investigation by the BBC team has also shown that many of these evacuees were already smuggled into Turkey.
Veteran Turkish journalist Rusen Cakir, one of handful of Turkish commentators consistently voicing concern about the threat of ISIS taking a foothold in Turkey, had seen this coming.
In Europe, where an estimated 1500 ISIS members, including women and children, have returned home, there is already heightened anxiety. Counterterrorism and intelligence authorities are assessing the threat level posed by these returnees.
In Turkey, too, border security has been stepped up in recent weeks. Counter-terrorism police detained 143 people over suspected links to ISIS over the weekend. Many were foreign citizens.
But after years of indifference and tolerance, it is probably too little, too late.
Turkish intelligence and counterterrorism authorities are aware of jihadi networks in towns near the Syrian frontier and in several big cities. Yet, according to the BBC investigation, clandestine networks of smugglers, facilitators and financers with transnational connections are still operating with impunity.
As ISIS is pushed out of Syria, the threat inside Turkey is clearly surging. In the race to carve out spheres of influence in Syria, Russian and American priorities are extending in different directions from that of Turkey’s.
Yet, none of this seems good enough reason for Turkey to reassess its anti-terrorism policies.
As the United Nations pointed out recently, Turkey’s security, intelligence and judicial institutions are working overtime already.
Never mind “the angry men and women” fleeing Raqqa. It is those questioning and criticising their government, Turkey’s own women and men, its journalists, teachers, lawyers and others, that are seen to be posing the real risk to national security.
This post is also available in: Turkish