al-Qaeda recruiting youth from Turkey to fight in Syria

Turkey's Aydınlık newspaper has discovered that al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), two of the al-Qaeda terror groups waging war in Syria, are organising andrecruiting youth in Güngören, a suburb of Istanbul.

Local mescits (mini mosques) are used to recruit terrorists. Aydınlık obtained a letter left for his family by 20-year-old Mesut Yönay, one of the recruits who was sent to Syria. “Hypocrites have no right to live,” said Yonay in the chilling letter. “I am on my way to wage jihad for Allah.”

Yonay’s letter is just one example among many of young Turks lured to war from their lives in the city. The poor quarters of Istanbul have become a source of recruits for the organisations fighting in Syria, and the youth of Güngören, one of the city’s most important channels for drug trafficking, are under significant risk. During daylight hours it appears to be a family neighbourhood, where women can be seen shopping and children playing in the streets. However at night, the picture changes dramatically. Groups of drug dealers assemble on street corners to ply their illicit trade, generally after 8PM as night falls, and the semblance of safety falls away.

Almost every street in the neighbourhood is home to an association, professedly for “culture and solidarity” or “learning and discussion”. The residents of Güngören explain how these are run by groups which previously had to keep their radical activities and ideologies underground, but have since the AKP’s rise to power been allowed to dress themselves up as legitimate organisations, adopting the tıtle “association.” Youths who begin to attend these associations are reported to undergo significant changes in personality in a short period.

The young recruits’ minds are molded through the salafist teachings at these associations, but the changes at first do not bother their families - in fact, the focus on religion rather than involvement in drugs would be welcome. However, before long the manner of dress changes, and the youth soon has the appearance of a typical salafist.

Aydınlık followed the trail of a number of youths who had left their homes in the neighbourhood to make their way to the bloody war in Syria. These include Mesut Yönay, Osman Bilgiç, Özkan Güngör, and Hasan Baran Açar, to name just a few. Most of them are young Kurds in their 20s, workers in the neighbourhood’s textile workshops. Almost all of the young people around them are involved in drugs, some have served time in prison for dealing.

According to their families, the man who introduces these youths to the ISIL organisation was Mehmet Hanifi Oruç, 28, from Silvan in Diyarbakır. Hanifi used to deal drugs in the neighbourhood, and would before draw the youth around him into that racket. Now he sends them on the road towards ISIL. There are rumours that Hanifi has sent a man to Syria every two months. The leader of this district’s operation is a man named Kürşat, who is said to have spent time in prison and currently has an 11-year sentence hanging over his head. Kürşat, a fugitive, is said to currently be in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

The youth congregate with Hanifi in the Hz Hamza Mescit, where they first settle down to pray. However, the group refuses to say their prayers with the imam, saying they will not pray with an employee of the Turkish state. Then, they begin their preparations for jihad, in a gathering the organisers claim is for religious education and Quranic study.

The youths we named in our story ran away from their homes in secret and made their way to Syria. Some of them phoned their families when they were far from Istanbul to tell them where they were headed; others left a note. The families are now doing everything in their power to reach their children, but lack official support from a state whose police department informed them that “nothing can be done” for their children.

(Report dated: 21-04-2014)