Turkish imam joins ISIL in Syria, deputy PM confirms

An imam who worked at a mosque in the Çanakkale province of northwestern Turkey has joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), daily Taraf cited Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç as saying on Dec. 12, adding that the imam has been removed from his post.

“Unfortunately it is true that an imam from Çanakkale’s Bayramiç district joined the ISIL. This person was suspended from his post on June 25,” said Arınç, while responding to questions over the budget of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet). In Turkey, imams are appointed to mosques by the Diyanet.

“I don’t know if there are similar examples in other provinces, but it deeply hurt us that an imam could leave the country to join an army of such murderers,” the deputy prime minister also said.

More than 100 of the 600 Turkish citizens that have gone to fight for jihadist groups such as ISIL have perished in battle, according to intelligence estimates, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Nov. 24.

Some 7,000 foreigners have been banned from entering Turkey and 1,100 people were deported on suspicions that they may join jihadist groups, the minister said in reply to questions by lawmakers in Parliament during budget discussions.

The foreign minister said it was unfair to expect Turkey, which has a 1,000-kilometer-long border with Syria and Iraq, to tackle alone the problem of foreign fighters crossing through Turkish territory. He asked Western countries to share more intelligence with Turkey on suspected militants so that Turkish authorities can stop them from entering the country.

Turkey has been subjected to criticism that it has turned a blind eye to extremists using its territory to cross into Syria. Since 2013, Ankara has stepped up its efforts to tackle the crossings of foreign fighters through its territory, particularly at airports.

Foreign fighters from Western countries mainly come from Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium to fight with al-Qaeda-linked groups like the al-Nusra Front and ISIL.

European countries, for their part, argue that they cannot arrest suspected fighters departing from their territory because they do not have concrete evidence that these people are going to join the Syrian civil war, and they cannot restrict their citizens’ freedom of movement.

Britain and Turkey are working “as closely as possible” to stop foreign fighters, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Dec. 10.

“We are fighting a common enemy, extremist terrorism,” Cameron told a joint news conference in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoğlu.

Britain has said it is facing the biggest terrorism threat in its history, in part because of the fear that British jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq could launch attacks on home soil.

More than 500 Britons are believed to have crossed into Iraq and Syria to fight with ISIL militants. Around half of those are thought to have returned to Britain.

“The prime minister and I have agreed we should exchange even more information, we should cooperate more in terms of intelligence,” he said.

“We should work hand in glove because the people who are travelling whether from Britain or elsewhere… these are people that threaten us back at home, so we should do everything we can,” he added.

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