News / Europe

    Turkey Struggles to Block Flow of Jihadists

    FILE - Islamist fighters are seen in Latakia province, Syria, not far from the Turkish border, March 31, 2014.
    FILE - Islamist fighters are seen in Latakia province, Syria, not far from the Turkish border, March 31, 2014.
    Dorian Jones

    The second brutal murder on video of a U.S. journalist by the Islamic State group (IS) is likely to add to diplomatic pressure from the West on Turkey.  Criticism has been growing over Ankara allowing itself to become a gateway for jihadists.

    Turkey became the primary route for foreign jihadists to join Syria's civil war because of the country's easy visa policies for travel, its porous 910-kilometer border with Syria, and its modern transportation infrastructure.

    Ankara, which grew hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after his deadly crackdown on protesters in 2011, also allowed foreign militants who sought to oust him to freely operate, according to news reports.  Ankara has denied turning a blind eye to their presence.

    Analysts say what may be limiting Turkey's ability to overtly crack down on jihadists is the Islamic State's kidnapping of 49 Turkish diplomats and their families in Mosul, Iraq, nearly three months ago.

    Turkish officials declined to comment on the hostages' status after the government in June banned domestic media from reporting on the issue.

    Political columnist Kadri Gursel of the Turkish newspaper Milliyet says the hostage crisis is not only a humanitarian problem, but is now dictating Turkish foreign policy towards the Islamic State militants.

    “The government has declared a censorship in order to suppress any kind of discussion, because as far as we see now, this hostage situation determines the level of its contribution to the war on IS. I think the most important thing Turkey can do with this hostage situation is secure the Turkey-Syria border,” says Gursel.

    Western allies are increasingly voicing concerns over the number of jihadists using Turkey to join radical groups like Islamic State.

    Sinan Ulgen of the Carnegie Institute in Brussels says that pressure is paying off with Ankara now starting to address those concerns.

    “Ankara's past assessment regarding the true nature of these groups was somewhat mistaken. Ankara's Syria policy is now more in line with that of its partners in the West and in particular Washington. They tend to look at these groups with a similar outlook,” says Ulgen.

    A Turkish Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said European countries could do more in providing accurate and timely intelligence on nationals from Europe coming to Turkey for jihad in Syria.  But the same official acknowledged that with Turkish colleagues held captive, they have to be very careful in moving against Islamic State.

    But it's not only diplomats who have been targeted.

    In 2003, an al-Qaida cell launched a series of major car bomb attacks in Istanbul against synagogues, the British consulate and a British-based bank. It resulted in nearly a hundred dead and many more injured.

    Concerns among Turks

    On the streets of Istanbul, for some there is fear over the danger posed by the Islamic State or ISID as it's called here, explains a man who preferred to remain anonymous.

    "I am really worried about ISID because in Turkey there is a conservative side, there is a real conservative side. I think ISID getting power in Syria and Iraq that can be an option for Turkey's conservative people, I really worried about that," says he.

    Columnist Gursel says that pro-government media coverage of the Syrian conflict continues to remain a powerful jihadist recruiting tool especially among religious followers of the ruling AK party, which has its roots in political Islam.  Gursel warns the government and country can end up paying a very high price.

    "We know that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of Turks and Kurds too, who have already joined the IS. And it's a big headache because these people will be battle-hardened, trained killers when they will be back. And the only thing that is needed, Turkish-speaking elements, who are capable to represent IS ideology and to spread it among the Sunni masses, says Gursel.

    Islamic State supporters have posted video of a recent meeting just outside Istanbul of hundreds of its followers. The government dismissed it as a publicly stunt. But observers say for many in Turkey it is seen as a harbinger of things to come, pointing out that the repercussions of IS could be far-reaching and traumatic for Turkey.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.