Several Russians, a Chechen, and a Tajik are reportedly among the tens of foreign citizens arrested and deported in Turkey this month as they attempted to cross the border into Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) group and other militant factions.
The arrests and deportations are part of a new crackdown by the Turkish security authorities against wannabe militants from around the world seeking to use Turkey as a crossing point into Syria.
Turkey's Daily Sabah news website reported on March 19 that the Turkish authorities had detained and deported 32 "IS sympathizers" in the past two weeks via a "special system that Turkey has set up to keep tabs on potential fighters heading to Syria through Turkey."
The Daily Sabah said that two Russians named only as K.S. and E.S., as well as Tajik citizen S.S. and a Chechen named as S.B., were deported before March 19.
On March 25, the Gazantiep governor's office said in a statement that a Russian citizen, S.D., was arrested for trying to cross the border into Syria.
Turkey's DHA news agency reported on March 20 that four Russian nationals were deported after trying to illegally cross the border near the Turkish border town of Kilis.
There have been no further reports about whether the Russian nationals had been arrested or questioned upon their return to Russia.
Officials at Tajikistan's Dushanbe airport told RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Radio Ozodi, on March 25 that they had no information about the identity of the deported Tajik citizen. However, airport spokesman Muhammadyusuf Shodiev said that deportees usually disembark as ordinary passengers and so airport staff are not able to give information about such individuals.
Authorities in Tajikistan suggested that the deported Tajik citizen may have been a 25-year-old woman named Shakhnoza Bozorzoda from Kulob. According to reports on Tajik state television, Bozorzoda was detained in Turkey recently and returned to Tajikistan.
The reports said that Bozorzoda was a medical student in Dushanbe and had become acquainted with a Tajik man named Sabzkadam via the Russian-language social-networking website Odnoklassniki and the voice-chat app Viber. Under Sabzkadam's influence, Bozorzoda reportedly abandoned her studies and decided to join the militants in Syria. However, she never reached Syria and was arrested in Turkey, Radio Ozodi reported.
Turkey's Porous Border
Turkey has faced criticism for failing to control its border with Syria, with the border crossing at Kilis becoming the main entry point for foreign nationals seeking to join militant groups. In January, after Hayat Boumedienne, the Frenchwoman named as an accomplice of the Islamist militants who carried out bloody terrorist attacks in Paris, crossed into Syria from Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu complained that even though there were Turkish units posted along the border, "a passage [into Syria] can always be found."
Two border crossings into rebel-held areas of northern Syria have been partially closed this month, amid fears of a terror attack.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk