A senior Western official claimed that information gathered at the compound of Abu Sayyaf, the individual responsible for oil smuggling operations on behalf of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who was killed in a US commando operation a few months ago, points to high-level contacts between Turkish officials and leading ISIL members, the Guardian newspaper in the UK has recently reported.
While they had given voice to some resentment and mild criticism of Turkey‘s much-questioned approach against ISIL, until very recently, Western officials had refrained from directly criticizing Turkish decision makers. The recent revelation appears to be the first public criticism of Turkey’s approach and could complicate Ankara’s relations with its Western allies.
Turkey, which entered the fray against ISIL after two years of reluctance to take an active part in the international coalition against the militant group, had faced charges of ignoring, if not openly facilitating, militants’ border crossings to join ISIL in Syria. Ankara’s refutations of such accusations seemingly fall short of convincing its Western allies, and the Guardian report will likely fuel underlying questions about ISIL’s links with Turkey.
“In the wake of the raid that killed Abu Sayyaf, suspicions of an undeclared alliance have hardened,” the Guardian report said.
One senior Western official familiar with the intelligence found at the compound told the Guardian that “direct dealings between Turkish officials and ranking Isis [ISIL] members was now ‘undeniable.’”
The Guardian report continues: “’There are hundreds of flash drives and documents that were seized there,’ the official told the Observer. ‘They are being analyzed at the moment, but the links are already so clear that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara.’”
With Turkey now striking ISIL targets in Syria after a bomb attack suspected to have been carried out by a militant killed 32 in the southern Turkish town of Suruç near the Syrian border and the killing of a soldier on the border, Ankara may have earned loud praise and strong support among its Western allies.
But questions and charges of tacit cooperation with the militant group over the past two years will, especially after the discovery of new information at Abu Sayyaf’s compound, overshadow today’s efforts and haunt Ankara’s ties with the West in years to come.