Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has issued a thinly veiled threat that Turkey could release jailed Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters and send them to Europe, a day after the country began its controversial policy of deporting foreign jihadists in its custody, The Guardian reported.
“You should revise your stance towards Turkey, which at the moment holds many ISIL members in prison and at the same time controls those in Syria,” Erdoğan told European countries in remarks to reporters in Ankara on Tuesday.
“These gates will open and these ISIL members who have started to be sent to you will continue to be sent. Then you can take care of your own problem.”
The Turkish leader’s remarks come in the wake of a fresh push to repatriate some of the 1,200 foreign ISIL fighters in Turkish detention centers and 287 captured recently in Syria, including those who have been stripped of Western citizenship in an attempt to prevent them from returning home.
Interior Ministry spokesperson İsmail Çataklı said on Monday one US citizen had already been repatriated and seven German nationals would be flown home on Nov. 14. Preparations to deport two Irish citizens as well as French and Danish nationals were also under way, he said.
Turkey has not given total numbers and nationalities of those it is planning to send home or details on how such a policy will work, particularly regarding stateless individuals. Many countries request passenger lists for both military and commercial flights before a plane is allowed to enter their airspace.
Turkish news reports said on Monday that a US citizen who had been deported by Turkey was stuck in a heavily militarized no man’s land between Greece and Turkey after Greece had refused to take him in.
Asked to comment on the reports, Erdoğan said: “Whether they are stuck there at the border, it doesn’t concern us. We will continue to send them. Whether they take them or not, it is not our concern.”
Germany’s foreign ministry confirmed that a German citizen had been returned to Berlin from Turkey on Monday and that a further nine would be deported later this week. The suspects’ alleged links to ISIL are still under investigation by Germany.
British diplomats said the policy did not appear to apply to UK citizens in Turkey at this time. Aine Davis, a member of the cell known as “the Beatles,” who beheaded hostages in Syria, is serving seven-and-a-half years in a Turkish prison.
British woman Tooba Gondal is also believed to be in Turkish custody, having escaped from a Kurdish-run detention center in the chaos caused by Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish-held Syria last month.
While Turkey has quietly deported members of ISIL for years, Ankara has brought the issue to the fore after facing condemnation from European allies over its assault on US-backed Kurdish fighters across the border in Syria, which Ankara considers a terrorist threat.
Ankara was also angered at an EU decision on Monday to impose sanctions on Turkey over its drilling for gas in disputed Mediterranean waters off Cyprus.
Erdoğan is due to visit Washington on Wednesday, where he is expected to discuss the fate of foreign fighters caught in ISIL ranks.