Monday, January 19, 2015

Escape to Syria of Charlie Hebdo suspect shows Turkey’s role as jihadi highway

    Monday, January 19, 2015   No comments

For the wife of the gunman accused of killing four people at a kosher super market in Paris 10 days ago, the escape from questioning about complicity in the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks was relatively easy.

Once Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, got to Turkey, she followed the path of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other European jihadi volunteers before her – into the self-declared Islamic State.

Aided by smugglers in the Turkish border town of Akcakale, and several companions, she walked through a disused border crossing on Jan. 8 and into the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, which has been an Islamic State stronghold for months.

She would have passed a guard shack on the old road between Alcakale and Tal Abyad, but if Turkish border guards took any notice, they made no effort to stop her, according to a Turkish security official, who spoke anonymously because speaking on the record was not allowed.

By the time French police identified Boumeddiene as one of the suspects in a terrorism onslaught that cost 17 people their lives and that France is calling its equivalent of 9/11, she was beyond their reach. The other three suspects, her husband, Amedy Coulibaly, who is believed to have killed a policewoman in addition to the four at the supermarket, and Said and Cherif Kouachi, blamed for the deaths of 12 at the Charlie Hebdo offices, would die in shootouts with police.

The Algerian-born Boumeddiene is not the first foreigner to cross into Islamic State territory from Akcakale and the surrounding region. But her escape focuses fresh attention on what is a sore point between Turkey and its European neighbors – the ease with which disaffected European youth are able to cross into Islamic State territory from Turkey and join the jihad.

Turkey insists it is taking steps to stop the flow of recruits to the Islamic State. But visits by a McClatchy reporter to Akcakale and three nearby villages found that a foreigner can easily cross into Syria. Smugglers’ fees are a pittance, as little as $30, and daylight crossings are common. Official efforts to discourage crossings to Syria appeared non-existent.

In each village, locals said foreigners cross the border regularly into Syria and offered to assist in crossing or to find a smuggler who would. They also named other villages where illegal crossings are a major business.

“It’s so easy to escape into Syria,” a farmer in a village about 25 miles east of Akcakale said. “You don’t need a smuggler, you can just walk.”


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