Cameron visits Turkey amid strained ties over jihadist handover

SHAFAQNA- British Prime Minister David Cameron will go to Turkey on Tuesday for a two-day working visit amid strained relations between Turkey and the UK due to allegations that Turkey handed over two of its citizens to the terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in a swap.

Cameron was originally scheduled to visit Turkey at the beginning of October, but Today’s Zaman has learned from well-placed sources that the British prime minister decided to postpone this visit, due to the news about Turkey handing over British jihadists to ISIL militants.

The British daily The Times on Nov. 29 ran a report claiming that Turkey, without informing Britain, had handed over two British citizens to ISIL in return for Turkish hostages who were captured by the terrorist organization in June in Mosul, Iraq.

Today’s Zaman also confirmed that the British government demanded that Turkey urgently offer an explanation about the two citizens — Shabazz Suleman (19) and Hisham Folkard (26) — who were allegedly handed over by Turkey to ISIL in a hostage swap. The issue has caused a rise in tension between the governments of the two countries.

According to a well-placed source speaking to Today’s Zaman on condition of anonymity, British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Philip Hammond called Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu regarding the issue and told Çavuşoğlu it was unacceptable for a NATO ally like Turkey to release the British citizens, whose capture the UK has issued a red notice through Interpol for.

Hammond, according to the source, told Çavuşoğlu that Turkey will be held responsible if these two British citizens return to the UK and commit a terrorist act.

After this exchange, Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu made a trip to London for damage control. Only a few days later, The Times broke the story of the two British jihadis who were allegedly handed over to ISIL and the tension it has caused between Turkey and the UK.

The Times reported that the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) informed Turkey that Suleman and Folkard had left Britain to join ISIL, and demanded that the two be handed over to the British authorities as soon as they are captured.

It was reported that Suleman and Folkard had been caught on the Turkish side of the border with Syria by the Turkish police while they were trying to pass over.

Although they were put in prison, Turkey did not inform Britain of their capture. Britain got wind of the issue after the two were handed over to ISIL in return for the 49 Turkish hostages in October.

Security analysts maintain that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) handled the handing over of the two imprisoned British citizens to ISIL.

Cameron is expected to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during his trip to Turkey. The UK prime minister will be speaking about how to stop British citizens crossing into Syria and Iraq to join ISIL fighters via the Turkish border, Cameron’s spokesman told the press on Monday.

“The focus, particularly given current events in Syria and Iraq and in that region, will be CT [counter terrorism] and ISIL,” the spokesman added.

British officials are concerned that the jihadis who fight along with ISIL could return and launch attacks on home soil.

“Certainly people traveling overseas from the UK to take part in terror activity is very much part of that relationship we have with [Turkey],” said Cameron’s spokesman.

British officials say about 500 of their citizens have traveled to the region, using Turkey as a transit point, and they believe half of this number have already returned to Britain.

The Times also published a photograph of the two British jihadis, saying that both of them are in Syria and have rejoined ISIL.

“Shabazz Suleman, 19 and Hisham Folkard, 26, have completed weapons training and are understood to be carrying out sentry duty in the Isis stronghold of Raqqa, northern Syria. A picture shows them together for the first time, proudly clutching AK47 assault rifles,” reported The Times.

The British daily also reported that there is pressure on Turkey to explain why at least 11 European Union nationals were among an estimated 180 extremists exchanged for the Turkish citizens who were kidnapped from Turkey’s consulate in Mosul.

After the release of the Turkish hostages, President Erdoğan hinted that there may have been a swap but refused to give further information on the issue. Turkey denies the allegations of handing over 180 extremists to ISIL in exchange for the release of its own citizens.


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