Most fake passports issued with official visas and travel stamps to allow people with links to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) the opportunity to leave Syria and travel to Europe and US are produced in Turkey, The Guardian newspaper reported.
The daily said one such network, run by an Uzbek with extremist links living in Turkey, is now selling high-quality fake passports for up to $15,000 purporting to be from various countries. In at least 10 cases the Guardian is aware of, people who illegally crossed the Syrian border into Turkey have used his products to depart through İstanbul Airport, according to the British newspaper.
Sellers claim the EU is the most popular destination but say in at least two cases people were able to travel from İstanbul to Mexico on fake Russian passports and, from there, illegally over the border into the US. Niger and Mauritania are also popular destinations, as are Ukraine and Afghanistan.
The daily found that the Uzbek’s business is doing so well he recently opened a new channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram with the official-sounding name “Istanbul Global Consulting.” The growing trade suggests that dangerous extremists could be slipping under the radar of security services around the world, escaping justice for past crimes and potentially able to continue terrorist activity in countries other than Syria.
“I do not ask about which group someone is with. I am willing to work with anyone,” the Uzbek said in a message chat with the Guardian, which posed as an interested client. “It is not my job to see who is bad and who is not. The security services should deal with it.”
To make sure a person disappears completely, for $500 the Uzbek seller can even offer a Turkish death certificate that can be sent to their home country’s consulate. “Unless you are Abu Bakr Baghdadi [the IS leader killed in 2019] no one would go to the morgue to check if you really died. They would just accept that document and enter it into the system,” he told the Guardian.
Typically, an EU citizen arrives in Turkey on his or her own passport, sells it to the Uzbek and his colleagues for about €2,500, then the passport photo is changed to that of a client. The original owner of the passport then claims it has been lost and applies for a replacement at his or her consulate in İstanbul.
The passports are printed in their countries of origin and taken to the country where the client is waiting, where they receive official border entry stamps, which helps cement the legitimacy of the document.
A report by the US Department of Defense had said Turkey is still a transit country for logistics, finance and weapons for ISIL despite the country’s efforts to step up the crackdown on the terrorist organization. The 136-page report, submitted to the US Congress, included the claim, based on remarks from the US European Command, that Turkey is still used as a base by ISIL, particularly for money transfers.
Turkey declared ISIL a terrorist organization in 2013 and has been attacked by the jihadist group multiple times since then. A total of 315 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in at least 10 suicide bombings, seven bomb blasts and four armed attacks organized by ISIL in the country.