Security forces on the border with Syria, where foreign fighters flock to join the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), captured a French and a Russian woman this week. Sonia Belayati of France was on her way to Turkey from Syria while Varvara Karaulova of Russia was heading to Syria when they were both captured in separate operations.
Belayati, 22, was captured on Tuesday as she crossed back into Turkey from Syria, according to a Turkish official speaking to Agence France-Presse (AFP). She was detained at a bus terminal in the southeastern border province of Şanlıurfa, which is a popular spot among would-be recruits for ISIS, which is currently engaged in battles to capture towns near the Turkish border. She had arrived in Turkey from France in March and sneaked into Syria where she reportedly spent three months and was married to an ISIS militant. Speaking to AFP, the official said Belayati split from the man and was briefly jailed by ISIS. The woman will be deported to France.
Karaulova, a 19-year-old student at Moscow State University who disappeared on May 27, was detained in Kilis, a southern province bordering Syria. Karaulova was attempting to cross into Syria when she was apprehended on Friday, media outlets reported. She will be deported to Russia. The young woman had told her parents that she would go to university when she disappeared. It was later revealed that she had boarded a flight to Istanbul. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had sought assistance from Turkish authorities to locate her.
Russian media had speculated that the woman sought to join ISIS, and had reported that she had recently started wearing a headscarf and was learning Arabic. The woman's father, Pavel Karaulov, told RIA Novosti news agency that he was shocked to find out that she left for Syria to apparently join ISIS.
ISIS, through social media and other means, quite often recruits fighters from European countries, but it is unknown whether they have a large number of ethnic Russians among them. However, Chechens, who are Russian nationals, reportedly abound among its ranks.
Turkey is at the forefront of efforts to curb the flow of foreign fighters seeking to join ISIS, which controls large stretches of territory in Iraq and Syria. Turkish officials have requested more support from the West at every opportunity and are counting on more solid steps to stem the flow. As part of Turkey's efforts, police have tightened security at transfer points such as airports, terminals, bus stations and rental car companies with a special risk analysis system, and a team is tasked with tracking suspicious foreigners who travel to Turkey for the first time, especially minors and individuals who do not have a hotel reservation. According to statistics from the Interior Ministry, almost 13,000 people have been barred from entering the country and 1,300 people have been deported.
Meanwhile, the country also faces another problem of its own citizens joining the militant group. The number of Turks joining the group is unknown, but experts believe their number is less than those traveling from European countries to join ISIS, as the group's violent ideology receives little support in Turkey. A 15-year-old boy named Enes Büyükbaş from Ankara made headlines on Friday when his father claimed he was killed in Syria after crossing the border to join ISIS. Enes's father, Mehmet Büyükbaş, said the boy had been living with his mother after their divorce 16 years ago. Influenced by his uncle, the boy attended an unofficial religious course and then joined a family of 10 who sneaked into Syria to join the militant group. "I thought he was learning about religion when he attended that course. I found out he was being trained to join ISIS," Büyükbaş told Ihlas news agency. "I wasn't aware he left for Syria. When I found out, I called his uncle and asked him where he was. He told me that Enes was killed in Syria and that his son was also killed [there] five months ago," Büyükbaş said. "I contacted Turkish police and prosecutors. I want him to be found whether he is dead or alive," he said.