Former Daesh commander has claimed that the terror group cooperated directly with Turkish state intelligence agencies for years on areas of “common interest”.
The source said that senior Turkish government officials had numerous meetings with ISIS representatives to coordinate activities and that this also involved providing support and safe harbour to foreign fighters in the country.
President Erdogan “was working hand in glove with ISIS” according to the US government counter-terrorism consultants who interviewed the ex-ISIS official.
The relationship raises questions about Turkey’s role as a NATO ally in the Syria conflict.
The source, who served as an ISIS emir for three years, Abu Mansour al Maghrebi, was interviewed by Professor Anne Speckhard, director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and a long-time US government counter-terrorism consultant for NATO, the CIA, FBI, State Department and Pentagon, as well as by Dr Ardian Shajkovci, the ICSVE’s director of research.
Although not all of al-Maghrebi’s claims can be verified, most of them are corroborated by the claims of other whistleblowers and former ISIS personnel as previously reported by INSURGE.
Speckhard and Shakovci described Abu Mansour as a sort of ISIS diplomat to Turkey based in Raqqa, Syria.
“My issue[duties] was our [Islamic State’s] relationship with Turkish intelligence. Actually, this started when I was working at the borders,” he explained.
Originally from Morocco, Abu Mansour was an electrical engineer who went to Syria in 2013 to join ISIS. His first job with the terror group involved handling foreign fighters coming to join ISIS via Turkey. This involved liaising with a network of ISIS-paid operatives inside Turkey who would direct fighters from Istanbul to the Turkish border towns of Gaziantep, Antakya, Sanliurfa, and so on.
“Most of them were paid by Dawlah[ISIS],” Abu Mansour said, but said that those working in Turkey were usually motivated by money rather than ideology. But he acknowledged: “Many in Turkey believe and give their bayat [oath of allegiance] to Dawlah. There are ISIS guys living in Turkey, individuals and groups, but no armed groups inside Turkey.”
Abu Mansour later travelled to Raqqa in 2015 where he facilitated Turkish medical treatment of ISIS fighters after high-level meetings with Turkish state intelligence. Abu Mansour claimed to have received his orders straight from Mohamed Hodoud, a representative of ISIS’ Majlis al Shura, and also to have briefly met the terror group’s elusive leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He told his interviewers:
There were some agreements and understandings between the Turkish intelligence and ISIS emni about the border gates, for the people who got injured. I had direct meeting with the MIT [the Turkish National Intelligence Organization], many meetings with them.”
He added that these regular meetings occurred between a range of agencies, including Turkish intelligence and the Turkish military:
There were teams. Some represent the Turkish intel, some represent the Turkish Army. There were teams from 3–5 different groups. Most meetings were in Turkey in military posts or their offices. It depended on the issue. Sometimes we meet each week. It depends on what was going on. Most of the meetings were close to the borders, some in Ankara, some in Gaziantep.”
Abu Mansour described having complete impunity to travel between Syria and Turkey, leading Speckhard to describe him as in effect an ISIS ‘Ambassador’. “I passed the borders and they let me pass”, he said. “[At the border], the Turks always sent me a car and I’m protected. A team of two to three people from our side were with me. I was in charge of our team most of the time.”
Although Abu Mansour denied being a “big guy”, he admitted that his reach on behalf of ISIS potentially extended to President Erdogan himself:
I was about to meet him but I did not. One of his intelligence officers said Erdogan wants to see you privately but it didn’t happen.”
The interview with Abu Mansour was published on March 18th2019 in Homeland Security Today, the magazine of the Government & Technology Services Coalition (GTSC) — a trade association of CEOs including former US government officials which work in the US national security sector.
A strategic partnership
Abu Mansour argued that his role was to coordinate a relationship between ISIS and Turkey where “both sides benefit.” Abu Mansour said that Turkey saw ISIS as a strategic tool to expand Turkey’s influence in northern Syria as the centre for a renewed empire:
We are in the border area and Turkey wants to control its borders — to control Northern Syria. Actually they had ambitions not only for controlling the Kurds. They wanted all the north, from Kessab (the most northern point of Syria) to Mosul… This is the Islamists’ ideology of Erdogan. They wanted all of the north of Syria. That is what the Turkish side said [they wanted], to control the north of Syria, because they have their real ambitions. Actually, we talked about what Erdogan said in public [versus what he really desired.] This part of Syria is part of the Ottoman states. Before the agreement following the Second World War, Aleppo and Mosul were part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The agreement Sykes Picot [in which they lost these regions] was signed for one hundred years. In our meetings, we talked about reestablishing the Ottoman Empire. This was the vision of Turkey.”
Abu Mansour added that although this vision was routinely attributed to Erdogan was not necessarily shared across the Turkish government:
I cannot say that this is the vision of the whole Turkish government. Many are against interfering to bring this project to reality. They say we will try to defeat the PKK and Kurds. We are afraid of the union between Kurds and that they may make a Kurdish state, but they also expanded to Aleppo… Since they are a NATO state they cannot make NATO angry against them. So, they cannot deal directly with the situation, but they want to destroy the Kurdish ummah, so they deal with the situation [via ISIS] and get benefits from the Islamic State.”
ISIS saw the covert alliance with Turkey as a “big benefit”, as “they could protect our back. Approximately 300 km of our border is with them. Turkey is considered a road for us for medications, food — so many things enter in the name of aid. The gates were open.”