Turkey was not vigilant enough in monitoring border crossings to Syria in the initial two or three years of the civil war there. The government was probably hoping that additional manpower would contribute to what it expected to be the rapid fall of the Bashar al–Assad regime. But once the issue of foreign fighters returning to their home country became alarming, Turkey started to come under pressure from European capitals to secure better control of the border.
The Turkish security forces cooperated with their foreign interlocutors, but it can be fairly said that the government truly started to take the issue seriously only after 2014, when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) deadly activities became more visible, especially after three foreign nationals of ISIL killed a Turkish police officer and military officer in March 2014.
European capitals’ initial complaints about lacking cooperation ceased over time, especially after several incidents revealed that some extradited ISIL members suspects were not properly investigated by the authorities of their country of origin, with some going on to stage attacks after being released. The men who injured three soldiers in Nice in 2015, for instance, were expelled by Turkey only a week before the attack.
Western diplomats admit that it is not always easy to cooperate with Turkish security officials, who are not generous in sharing information. But that is not an approach specific to the Turkish security and intelligence apparatus.
Some of the attacks staged by ISIL show that even cooperation among EU member states is not at a satisfactory level, and neither is cohesion among different institutions within the same country.
One additional difficulty specific to Turkey has been the breakup of the alliance between the government and the followers of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, which penetrated the security and intelligence agencies. As the government started to target the Gülenists following the December 2013 corruption operations against the government, Turkey’s Western allies faced difficulties finding interlocutors in the security institutions.
The anti-Gülen purge ramped up a gear after the failed July 15 coup attempt, which must have created additional challenges in bilateral cooperation. But European capitals seem to be relatively satisfied with results on the ground. For example, nearly 180 French
nationals have been expelled to France over the course of the past two years.
However, there are complaints about Ankara’s harsh criticism of Europe
regarding security cooperation, while officials fear that what happens at the bureaucratic level sometimes does not reach up to the relevant parts of government. Recently, four ISIL members returned by Turkey to the U.K. were tried and sentenced to nine years in jail, but few know about this in Turkey.
Are members of the Turkish government left in the dark by bureaucrats, or do they prefer not to know? After all, it suits their interests to bash European capitals whenever they want, especially when it comes to the extradition issue of suspected “Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ)” members.
Indeed, that is a number one priority issue for the government, which has a position that can be summarized as follows: “We deliver on ISIL, we expect the same on FETÖ.”
Unfortunately, some of the evidence provided by the Turkish authorities does not comply with European standards on criteria for extradition. In addition, claims of torture and mistreatment in prison, as well as suspicions over a fair trial, are not making it any easier.
Turkish officials are too emotional and too temperamental. One foreign diplomat said that at a time when Ankara
needs to be patient, “it is acting like an elephant in a China
shop” on the FETÖ issue.