The Trials of the Turkish Jihadi
The stone in the heart of Ebu Yasir el-Turki is the Turkish Jihadi who leaves his home in Adana, Konya or Gaziantep to fight alongside the Taliban and militant Muslim brothers hailing from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, or Europe. The portrait he paints, — with evident embarassment, for he appears to be a Turk himself — is of ‘fairweather Jihadis’ seeking swift, easy glory and a quick return home, there to live comfortably off richly embroidered stories of derring-do.
“At the moment, in the Jihadist communities in Afghanistan, Turks are not very valued. They are considered guests who have come on a vacation, with exceptions,” Yasir, of the guerrilla Islamic Jihad Union, says in an interview posted on the Turkish Jihadist website Sehadet Vakti (Time for Martyrdom) and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
“The Turks here are so famous that they are given as examples in many conversations. They say ‘do not do as the Turks do’ or ‘do not be as Turks are’… Believe me, no community wants to accept these Turkish Mujahideen.”
Why, then, this washing of dirty linen in the very public realm of cyberspace? Yasir clearly sees a broader problem for the Mujahideen.
Too many Turkish volunteers, he says, are moved by emotion rather than genuine religious zeal. They can be weak people, who choose jihad as an escape from social and private problems. Watching a video about Jihad and martyrdom in the comfort of an air-conditioned flat in Turkey is one thing.
“But it is different here. Sometimes they have to stay in a room … for months, when it is hot and cold.”
They come saying they will stay for a year, seeking death and revenge against Western occupiers, but passions subside and many leave after only a few months. Security experts and diplomats in Kabul talk of an increased level of foreign fighters this year; most of all Pakistanis, but after that Chechens, Uzbeks, Arabs and Turks. The Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, said this week they had caught a Turk, a Saudi and a Kuwaiti in Paktia province, close to the Pakistani border.
Yasir makes some revealing observations about his Turkish brethren and by implication, about Turkey.
“Praise be unto Allah, we started to improve them, but it is very difficult. Every Turkish brother comes as a commander and they do not like being under (anyone’s) command because they were brought up in a democratic environment. They feel the need to express their ideas on every subject,” he said.
Talk of Jihad and sacrifice turn to a longing for the comforts of home. The Turk would have grown up in a secular order and, Yasir seems to say, the mantle of the Jihadist hangs ill about his shoulders. He lacks also the fear of persecution when he returns that helps motivate the Egyptian, the Uzbek or the Chechen.
“The excuses are standard.”
If he is married, he has to return to sort out his wife’s problems, if single, he must go back to marry, or he is depressed or he argues with camp instructors. “We are fighting here, not playing games,” the Turks are told. “This is not a tourist facility for you to be able to say ‘I decided I am leaving.’ Is Allah’s religion so simple for you?”
The faint of heart parry his rebukes, referring back to early jihads that, they say, lasted only four months. “May Allah reclaim these brothers,” says Yasir.
So, they go.
This, for the Jihadis back in Afghanistan, is where the problems begin. Back in Turkey, the failed Mujahideen assumes the role of returning hero, collecting money, rallying admirers and then sending them off to Afghanistan. There they pitch up, unbidden and unwanted. What, Yasir asks, do we do with them then?
The Turks, says Yasir, have had their distinguished fighters and martyrs, especially in the early years after the U.S.-led invasion when he says they numbered about 2,000. Now he estimates there are about 150 Turkish Jihadi though there is no way of verifying this. He talks with some reverence of Cuneyt Cifti, known by the codename Saad Ebu Furkan, who in March drove a truck packed with explosives into an Afghan and allied army compound, killing two allied soldiers and two Afghan civilians.
Though a Turk by family background, Cifti grew up largely in Germany.
Yasir acknowledges the hardship in the mountains and on the plains of Afghanistan. The number of Mujahideen who hold out for five years is small, “not more than the fingers on one hand”; but those who come should agree to stay for at least one year and should come out of religious conviction and not emotion.
“If we do it, we should do it right, or it might be better to stay where we are and not go to the battlefields … (and) create problems for the Mujahideen.”