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WASHINGTON – Al-Qaida is moving through Turkey into Syria to join the effort to oust the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but Turkish officials reportedly are ignoring this influx of Islamist militants, reinforcing claims by the al-Assad government that it is fighting foreign terrorists, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Turkish opposition members are expressing concern that Turkish officials are ignoring foreign fighters who say they are fighting in Syria to “make jihad and bring Shariah law” to Turkey’s neighbor, according to Mehmet Ali Edipoglu, parliamentary deputy for the main opposition People’s Republic Party.
Edipoglu represents the city of Hatay, which is the main city in Antakya province that borders Syria.
Edipoglu, like other sources, says the militants are coming from Libya, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations. He claims that they are al-Qaida militants. They are picked up from their homes and put on buses in Antakya.
Each night, some 40 to 50 mini-buses head for Syria where the militants fight and then return to Turkey.
Edipoglu told Voice of America Turkish authorities are “turning a blind eye” to the Islamist militants among the Syrian opposition members who are basing themselves in Turkey.
A Turkish foreign ministry spokesman, Selcuk Unal, acknowledged to VOA that there is concern about the threat of al-Qaida elements entering Syria, but said there isn’t much Turkey can do.
Turkey has had its own problems with al-Qaida in the past. Al-Qaida in 2003 set off car bombs in Istanbul targeting synagogues, the British consulate and a bank headquarters, killing some 67 people and injuring more than 700.
Yet, Sunni Turkey has sided with Sunni Saudi Arabia in seeking the ouster of al-Assad, who is a Shi’ite Alawite. The Saudis have been financing and recruiting foreign fighters who are Sunni Salafists and aligned with al-Qaida.
According to various sources, many of the al-Qaida elements have been carrying black flags similar to those the group used in Iraq, suggesting that they are coming in from Iraq and staging in Turkey before going into Syria.
Seth Jones, associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, said that through analysis he has conducted of al-Qaida in Syria, he has identified “whole cell structures.”
“If you’re Jordan, if you’re Turkey, if you’re Saudi Arabia, if you’re the United States, the United Kingdom – frankly, if you’re Syria itself,” Jones said, “there should be grave concerns about a strengthening extremist network whose long-term vision of establishing an emirate in Syria is very different from what the bulk of the Free Syrian Army is arguing.”
There is also the danger that Syria holds vast quantities of chemical weapons and says it will not use them, unless it is fighting foreign soldiers who are intervening in Syria’s civil war.
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