When Syrian Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) closed in on their Islamic State (IS) rivals in Tell Abyad, a strategic jihadist stronghold, thousands of civilians flocked to the Turkish border in scenes repeated since the Syrian conflict erupted four years ago. At first, Turkey, already home to nearly 2 million Syrian refugees, balked and fended them off with water cannon. Under a barrage of international criticism, the Turkish authorities relented. By the time the YPG declared victory at Tell Abyad on June 15, at least 23,000 Syrian refugees were thought to have crossed into Turkey, some illegally. Thousands more are expected to follow and the big question is not so much how Turkey will cope with the added burden, but how many IS militants are lurking in their midst.
According to Turkish media reports, Turkish security forces caught several IS fighters as they tried to slip into Turkey from Tell Abyad. “It is pretty certain that IS fighters crossed into Turkey via Tell Abyad,” said Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, an analyst who monitors jihadist groups for the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank. “They have already got a shadow presence [in Turkey], and having a presence amid the refugee population will be of benefit to them,” he added in an electronic interview with Al-Monitor.