SYRIA – TURKEY

IS jihadists taunt Turkish army at Syrian border

A video showing fighters from the group calling itself Islamic State talking to Turkish soldiers near the embattled city of Kobane has widely circulated online. The video has angered Kurdish activists, who see it as proof of collusion between the Turkish army and the jihadist group. However, the scene appears to be the result of provocation on the part of the IS fighters.

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Screen grab of a video filmed by a Kurdish news agency, which shows IS fighters talking to Turkish soldiers at the Syria-Turkey border.

A video showing fighters from the group calling itself Islamic State (IS) talking to Turkish soldiers near the embattled city of Kobane has been widely circulated online. The video has angered Kurdish activists, who see it as proof of collusion between the Turkish army and the jihadist group. However, the scene appears to be the result of provocation on the part of the IS fighters. Here's why...

A zone fought over by jihadists and Kurdish fighters

The video was filmed by members of a Kurdish news agency called DIHA, on October 2014, not far from a hill called Tel al-Chair. Since the start of fighting in September, this hill located west of Kobane has changed hands several times between the jihadists and the Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The zone is a no-man’s land located on the border between Turkey and Syria, where hundreds of Kurdish refugees abandoned their cars and farm equipment before crossing into Turkey. The Turkish authorities would not allow them to bring in their vehicles.

While it is unclear who controls this zone today (October 29), a source in the IS group confirmed that jihadists temporarily controlled the area for some time last week. This was also confirmed by the YPG spokesperson in Kobane, Hassan Charous, whom FRANCE 24 reached by phone. He said this video was filmed right after the jihadists took over the zone on October 22. Aided by air-cover by US-led coalition jets, Kurdish fighters were able to retake the area the next day, Charous added.

Jihadists signaling their presence

The video, which was edited by the DIHA news agency, begins with two armed men – one in an Afghan outfit and another wearing a black sweatshirt – burning an object in the middle of the no-man’s land. The two men then head toward some abandoned vehicles, where they meet up with other IS fighters. At 1’13”, the man in the black sweatshirt makes hand gestures in the direction of the border. At 1’41”, you can see five men talking near a truck filled with goods. Then, a bit later, the two jihadists walk toward the Turkish border. At 2’32”, the two men again start making hand gestures, as if to signal their presence to Turkish soldiers. Weapons in hand, they walk over to the barbed wired fence that marks the border. A Turkish military vehicle arrives on the scene. Four men quickly get out, put on bulletproof vests, and walk over to the jihadists. The scene takes place behind a truck. It appears that they start talking, but due to the poor quality of the video, it is impossible to determine the subject of conversation.

On another, longer version of the video published by a different Kurdish media outlet, one of the soldiers is seen making hand gestures to the jihadists just after their encounter, visibly to ask them to go away. [3’13”]. Before leaving, the jihadists do the IS fighters’ hand sign – one finger pointed to the sky – and yell “allahou akbar […] La ilaha illa Allah’ (God is great […] There is only one God, Allah).

This isn’t the first time that IS fighters have made incursions into the no-man’s land. Since the start of the battle for Kobane, Kurdish refugees reported seeing them in the no-man’s land on multiple occasions, where they took several vehicles belonging to Kurdish civilians.

“Nothing suspicious” about this encounter

For several months now, many Kurdish activists have suspected that Turkey was secretly helping IS fighters. Several Kurdish news sites presented this video as proof of the so-called “cooperation”. And yet, Saradar K., a Kurdish activist from Kobane, finds nothing suspicious about the attitude of the Turkish soldiers in the video. “The jihadists went over there to taunt the soldiers, since they had just taken over the zone west of Kobane. It’s absolutely normal that the Turkish soldiers reacted this way in the face of this kind of provocation. They can’t just intervene in another country [Syria], without having received an order from very high on up”.

Earlier this month, Turkey’s parliament voted on a resolution that authorised military intervention in Iraq and Syria, alongside coalition forces, against the Islamic State group. However, no military operation has taken place; Turkish soldiers have stayed posted at the border with Syria. This choice can partially be explained by the fact that Turkey does not wish to support the YPG, a Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which is an armed Kurdish separatist group that Turkey considers to be a terrorist organisation.

Turkish authorities have, however, allowed peshmergas, armed Kurdish fighters, to travel through Turkey on their way to fight IS in Kobane. The first peshmergas arrived on Tuesday night.