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Reaching Raqqa: IS Finds Way Around Border Controls

The sudden departure of three British teenage girls and other recent incidents of Western teenagers running away to join Islamic State means that parents and community leaders are likely to be more vigilant for signs that young people could be radicalized.

The sudden departure of three British teenage girls and other recent incidents of Western teenagers running away to join Islamic State means that parents and community leaders are likely to be more vigilant for signs that young people could be radicalized.

The extremist Islamic State (IS) group has adapted to toughened Turkish border controls by changing how it brings new recruits from Turkey into Syria, a recent recruitment document shows.

The 100-page document, entitled The Islamic State (2015), was originally published in February but reposted on social media on May 6, likely as part of a recruitment push by IS.

Until 2014, the most common method of crossing into Syria had been via the border crossings at Bab al-Salam or Bab al-Hawa. All an IS wannabe had to do to cross into Syria was dress casually and not look religious, the guidebook said.

But because "things have got harder at the Turkish border," IS has begun smuggling recruits into Syria via an illegal border crossing.

The new IS guidebook shows how the militant group's network of Twitter contacts is an integral part of these new people-smuggling methods.

Turkey, which has faced international criticism for allowing militants to pass across its porous border, has not been able to stem the tide of new IS recruits from entering Syria.

But, in the face of increased pressure from the West, the Turkish authorities have introduced stricter border measures, meaning that those wishing to join IS in Syria have to try to slip across the border undetected.

Smuggled Like Fertilizer

In the wake of Turkey's efforts to secure its border, IS contacts now meet new recruits in hotels in Turkey and travel with them to Sanluirfa, where they cross into Syria from the Turkish town of Akcakale into the IS-controlled town of Tel Abyad. The route is used because it is closer to Raqqa, IS's de facto capital in Syria, according to the IS guidebook. (The same route is reportedly used to smuggle ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that is also used for bombs, into IS-controlled territory from Turkey.)

The IS guidebook explains that potential IS recruits crossing from Akcakale have to make a run for it across the border.

"You both look around, and if the coast is clear -- they run as fast as they can into Syria, and get into the car of a friend and go to Raqqa," the guidebook says.

Pretend You're Going To Spain

In February, three British schoolgirls were caught on CCTV in Istanbul as they waited for a bus to take them to the Syrian border.

The sudden departure of the three girls for Syria and other recent incidents of Western teenagers running away from home to join IS have caused a public outcry. As a result, parents and community leaders have been encouraged to be more vigilant for signs that their teenage children could be radicalized.

In response, IS has adapted its advice for young people who want to join its ranks.

The guidebook advises that people seeking to join IS should not tell anyone, not even close family members, about their plans.

New IS recruits from the West still have to travel to Syria via Turkey. But to avoid suspicion, the guidebook advises that they should buy an air ticket to an "indirect holiday country" like Spain or Greece. Wannabe IS recruits should make sure to buy a return ticket, so people won't suspect they are not coming back.

Tweeting For IS

The guidebook shows how IS has developed a network of male and female IS recruiters whose role is to help and advise new recruits about how to come to Syria.

Listed in the document are 19 "useful Twitter contacts," individuals who are already in Syria with whom IS wannabes are encouraged to get in touch.

The male Twitter contacts listed in the guidebook include individuals who are already known for their involvement in online recruitment for IS.

British militant Faris Britani until recently offered advice to would-be militants via the social networking site

Abu Khalid al-Cambodi, the nom de guerre of Neil Prakash, is an Australian who appeared in a recent IS video calling for attacks on civilians.

Prakash, who is of Fijian-Indian and Cambodian descent and who traveled to Syria in early 2013, was previously described in the Australian media as one of IS's most senior recruiters of Australian militants.

Umm Waqqas, a prominent female IS online recruiter, has been involved in recruiting English-speaking women, including a Colorado woman known as Umm Yassir.

Umm Waqqas has been variously described as Dutch or British, though the UK's Channel 4 recently reported that her Twitter account had been set up and operated by Rawdah Abdisalaam, a twenty-something woman believed to be from Seattle.

Twitter has tried to crack down on IS members who use the social network for propaganda and recruitment purposes by deleting and disabling accounts. The Twitter accounts listed in the guidebook for Umm Waqqas, Faris Britani, and Prakash have already been deleted.

But, as Brigitte Nacos, a professor of political science at Columbia University, put it in a recent blog post, "while the social media sites, whether Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and so on, tend to shut down propaganda sites, they pop up again, often under slightly different names."

IS's Twitter contacts do more than just talk to and advise potential recruits online. They help smuggle new IS recruits from Turkey into Syria, according to the guidebook.

New recruits arriving in Turkey are instructed to rent a hotel room and then use Twitter's direct messaging system to set up a meeting with a trusted IS contact in Syria.

The contact will "leave Syria, meet [the new recruit] in their hotel room (it's important to meet before crossing for security) and they will go together to Sanluirfa," the guidebook says.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena


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