Christine Duhaime, March 2015
Gaziantep, Turkey appears to have emerged as a city of choice for terrorist financing and human trafficking for the Islamic State (“ISIS“) in the past twelve months.
Gaziantep is a city close to the Syrian border and is considered one of the key “porous” border towns, where people and goods illegally sold or shipped to ISIS from the Middle East or the West, can cross the Turkey – Syrian border easily. It is located 60 miles from Aleppo, Syria, a city largely under the control of ISIS. The flight from Istanbul to Gaziantep is known as “jihad express.” Reyhanli, a Turkish border town, is also a conduit town.
Gaziantep is known as “ISIS International” in reference to it being an ISIS hub where the group collects new recruits arriving from other countries to take them across the border, and conducts a large part of its commercial activities. In the last two months, Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization estimated that 3,000 foreign fighters joined ISIS traveling through Gaziantep and its importance as a town economically supported by terrorist commerce is not disputed.
Last month, the US Department of Justice indicted six foreign nationals for terrorist financing in connection with al Qaeda and ISIS for, inter alia, allegedly using money services businesses to send money to Gaziantep where it was collected by ISIS affiliated agents to fund their activities. The Indictment also says that army-related goods were shipped from the US to ISIS via Gaziantep. A few months earlier, an organization in Egypt circulated an infographic on Twitter showing how young teenage girls from the UK are routed to ISIS through Gaziantep and how funds to pay for their travel is facilitated by a money services business in Gaziantep that accepts payments from ISIS to remit funds to the UK for teenage girls to defect to Syria.
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In fact, the three British brides who recently joined ISIS were filmed in Gaziantep getting into a car before crossing the border to Syria. In the video, you can see that the girls have expensive Louis Vuitton luggage. Their ISIS handler gives them new Syrian passports, which speaks to the control ISIS has over official Syrian documentation that UK nationals can be given Syrian passports in Turkey and it also speaks to the pre-planning involved for ISIS operatives to have secured their photos in passport format and issued passports for the girls purportedly from the Syrian government. The smuggling route through Gaziantep is well-organized. In the video, the ISIS handler tells the girls that there are lots of “bullets” in Gaziantep and is heard saying that Gaziantep is the “better border.”