Report: ISIL has sleeper cells in Ankara, İstanbul, Konya

Radical Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants allegedly have terrorist sleeper cells in three main provinces of Turkey — İstanbul, Ankara and Konya — and they are ready to attack at any time, US counter-terrorism officials warned Turkey during the recent NATO summit in Wales, the Taraf daily reported on Monday.

Here is a summary:

US security experts gave Turkish officials at the summit information about the existence of the ISIL sleeper cells in Ankara, İstanbul and Konya, adding that there are possibly sleeper cells in Van, Diyarbakır, Hatay, Gaziantep at Şanlıurfa. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attended the conference and had an extensive talk with the US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the event on Sept 5.

According to Taraf, determining the number of sleeper cells in Turkey is not easy due to the large number of Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey from the civil war, as there might be ISIL supporters among them. The report said the ISIL militants in sleeper cells have the capacity to launch bomb attacks similar to last year’s attack in Reyhanlı in May, which killed 53 people.

Turkey is reluctant to give full support to a US-led campaign to destroy ISIL in the region, citing the 46 Turkish citizens who were taken hostage by ISIL at Turkey’s Consulate General in Mosul about three months ago. Taraf said the hostage crisis is not Ankara’s sole concern; the possibility of an ISIL attack in Turkey also is a source of worry.

According to the daily, the US officials warned all its NATO allies about the risk of possible sleeper cells in their territory.

ISIL sends some of its militants who live in Europe and other Muslim countries to war zones, but some remain in their country of origin and take no part in the group’s activities so as not to attract attention. Those individuals then make up a “sleeper cell,” which could attack at an unexpected time. It is estimated that there are many sleeper cells in Turkey, Europe and Arab countries, Taraf reported.

Taraf suggested in a report in its Sunday edition that Erdoğan told representatives of pro-government media outlets during a meeting in İstanbul over the weekend that Turkey will provide support to the US-led campaign against ISIL, but that it will remain silent about its cooperation.

According to Taraf, the sole item on the meeting’s agenda was the threat of ISIL and the editorial policy to follow during the coalition military strikes against ISIL targets. Taraf claimed that some representatives of the media organizations even suggested that the government allow the use of Turkish air bases for military operations without the approval of Parliament.

The invite-only meeting has been mocked by the uninvited as a “press conference closed to the press.” The meeting lasted about three hours. According to Taraf, Erdoğan talked about the general situation with regard to the military plans of the US and then asked the members of the press there to talk about their opinions. Erdoğan reportedly did not say directly that Turkey would provide support to the US-led military operation, but according to Taraf, the press has interpreted the talks as implying that Turkey would like to support the US behind the scenes.

Some of the members of the media present at the meeting warned about problems that might be created among conservative members of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) if Turkey supported a military operation against ISIL.

Citing that the issue of allowing Turkish airbases to be used in military operations without parliamentary approval may potentially cause problems, some media representatives suggested not to bring the subject to Parliament, Taraf claimed.

According to Taraf, those present at the meeting agreed it is necessary to create a public perception of Turkey not supporting the US military operations while at the same time supporting the US’s efforts behind the scenes.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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