Turkey condemns ‘escape’ of Raqa jihadists

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The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took over Raqa in October

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took over Raqa in October

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took over Raqa in October

Turkey on Wednesday condemned as “an extremely grave revelation” the potential escape of hundreds of jihadists from the Syrian city of Raqa, saying it underscored the perils of Washington’s alliance with Kurdish fighters.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said over 3,000 civilians had left Raqa on October 14 as part of a deal negotiated between officials from the provisional Raqa Civil Council and Syrian IS fighters.

The US-led coalition later acknowledged that of these up to 300 were seen as “potential” IS fighters, following a BBC report that hundreds of jihadists, including foreigners, had left as part of the deal.

IS lost control of Raqa on October 17 after months of fighting against the SDF, a Kurdish-dominated force regarded with disdain by Turkey.

The Turkish foreign ministry described the information as an “extremely grave and eye-opening revelation”, accusing the SDF of negotiating with IS to evacuate fighters.

The SDF is dominated by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a “terror” group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) waging an insurgency inside Turkey.

Ankara has long lambasted Washington for working with and arming the YPG as the main US ally in the fight against IS.

– ‘Terror corridor’ –

The ministry said the purpose of the YPG was not to fight IS “but to create illegitimate faits-accomplis on the ground, to occupy territories and to alter their demographic structures,” the ministry said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed he would not allow a “terror corridor” controlled by the YPG in Syria close to Turkey’s border.

He has also warned that Turkey could yet mount a military operation against the YPG to oust the group from the northern Syrian town of Afrin.

Concerns over the Raqa deal came to the fore this week after the BBC reported on Monday that hundreds of IS fighters, including foreigners, had left Raqa in a massive convoy assembled on October 12.

But at the time the US-led coalition against IS said it was “very adamant” that foreign IS fighters not be allowed to leave Raqa.

Coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said on Tuesday that “out of the 3,500 civilians that came out of… Raqa at that time, approximately less than 300 were identified and screened as potential (IS) fighters.”

Turkey has suffered a series of attacks blamed on IS militants over the past two years, the latest in January at an elite Istanbul nightclub during which an IS gunman killed 39 people.

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