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Latest update : 2014-10-20

Video: Turkey ‘turns blind eye’ to border-crossing jihadists

© FRANCE 24

It’s a scene Turkish activist Sehbal Senyurt has grown accustomed to witnessing.

In small groups, would-be jihadists walk across the barren border between Turkey and Syria, in full view of bystanders, TV crews and Turkish border patrols – who do nothing to stop them.

On the Syrian side of the border, Kurdish fighters open fire on the trespassers, cheered on by onlookers gathered on a hilltop inside Turkey.

Within seconds, Islamic State (IS) militants return fire and their new recruits are safely through, ready to join the battle for the Kurdish stronghold of Kobane.

Since the start of the siege a month ago, Senyurt has kept watch along the border, monitoring areas known to be regularly crossed by militants en route to Syria.

“We want the Islamic State (IS) fighters to give up on using the border crossings,” says the human rights activist from Diyarbakir, in southeastern Turkey. “We demonstrate and we make noise. We keep a constant watch.”

Senyurt and her fellow volunteers from across Turkey brave the threat of retaliation to try and stop the flow of jihadist fighters.

She says she has witnessed an increase in the number of vehicles crossing the border since the start of the battle for Kobane, especially at night.

“Vehicles of all kinds come and go, whereas normally there is very little traffic along this stretch of the border,” she says.

Pick-up trucks and armed men are also clearly visible during the day, just a stone's throw from the Turkish border.

As a result of decades fighting Kurdish separatists of the PKK, Turkey’s 900-kilometre border has long been heavily guarded.

And yet Turkey has been accused of turning a blind eye to the flow of jihadists, so long as they opposed the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Turkey has been training, arming and sending over the so-called moderate opposition to fight the Syrian regime, but over the past year this has taken on another dimension,” says Tahir Elci, the most senior lawyer in Diyarbakir.

“ISIS [as the IS organisation is also known] and similar groups illegally enter Turkey to stock up and then they return to Syria. That's against the law. But it's the policy of the state,” he says.

While Ankara has vowed to join the international fight against IS militants, it has so far refused to target the militants encircling Kobane.

Despite mounting criticism at home and abroad, Turkey has been reluctant to aid Kobane’s defenders for fear of encouraging the Kurdish separatist cause.

The disputed city is currently defended by members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which are aligned with the Turkish PKK and have, in the past, offered refuge to PKK militants fleeing Turkey.

Instead of bombing IS forces, Turkish forces launched raids against PKK positions inside Turkey last week, the first such raids since the two sides agreed to a ceasefire in 2013.

For many Kurds, who have been pleading for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to help Kobane, it was a provocation too many.

The PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan has threatened to break off peace talks over Turkey’s refusal to help Kobane,

Should the ceasefire collapse, Turkey’s refusal to help Kurds just across the border could backfire and lead to a new wave of unrest inside its own frontiers.

Click on the player above to watch the report by FRANCE 24’s Luke Brown and Alexandra Renard.

Islamic state group in Iraq and Syria

By Luke BROWN , Alexandra RENARD

Our guests

Mostafa MINAWI

Director of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative, Cornell University

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