Leading members of the Islamic State (ISIS) are plotting a resurgence of terror after taking refuge in Turkey, the head of Iraqi Military Intelligence told CNN on Monday.
The dossiers of nine alleged terror leaders, including top financiers with “huge amounts of money” to fund operations around the world, have been handed to Turkey, Lt. Gen. Saad al-Allaq said.
Recent communications from the jihadist organisation point to plans for prison breaks across Iraq and Syria, the Iraqi spy chief said.
“Huge international efforts should be taken to deal with this issue because these criminals … are able to leave these camps and go back to their countries and thus they pose great danger in countries like Europe, Asia and northwest Africa,” al-Allaq told CNN.
ISIS lost all of its territory in the region six months ago, and tens of thousands of its fighters, including some 2,000 foreign nationals, and their families are being held in detention camps scattered throughout northeast Syria.
A Turkish offensive launched last month against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which played a key role in defeating ISIS, has sparked concerns of a possible revival of the jihadist organisation.
There are an estimated 10,000 alleged ISIS fighters in custody under the Kurdish-dominated SDF in northern Syria.
Senior ISIS figures known as “emirs” who have access to large amounts of cash and are forming new cells in Turkey, al-Allaq said.
The group escaped from ISIS’ last stand in Baghouz in eastern Syria earlier this year and are currently in Turkey’s southeastern province of Gaziantep, he said.
“They have secretly crossed into these areas from the Syrian-Turkish border – top leaders who have money. They crossed with the help of smugglers by paying large amounts of money and have secretly entered Turkish territory,” al-Allaq said.
“Those elements who are right now in Turkey play a key role in the recruitment of fighters and terrorists,” he added.
Turkey announced the capture of former ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s sister, her husband and daughter-in-law earlier this month, while President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said one of Baghdadi’s wives had been captured. The Turkish president did not reveal her name.
Ankara has said it will repatriate around 2,500 ISIS militants, the majority of whom will go to European Union nations.
The move by Ankara has alarmed Balkan countries, which are ill-equipped to handle their return, political analyst Hamdi Fırat Büyük wrote in Balkan Insight on Monday.
While the number of ISIS fighters and family members originally from the Balkans are not known, the article said, most come from Kosovo, Bosnia, Albania and North Macedonia, and a smaller number from Montenegro and Serbia.
Kosovo and Bosnia have accepted some of their nationals who fought in Syria and are making preparations to receive others, Büyük wrote.
“There are no means for the de-radicalisation process, and no space for the accommodation of former ISIS members and their families,“ the article quoted Sarajevo-based independent security analyst Safet Music as saying.