Turkish ISIS member: Turkey’s soldiers helped us cross the border

An ISIS member from Turkey arrested in Northern Syria reports in detail in an ANF interview how Turkish policemen and soldiers helped him to cross the border into the "Islamic state".

Every day new evidence of cooperation between the Turkish state and the ISIS comes to light. In addition to the countless material evidence, the ISIS jihadists captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) severely burden the Turkish state. One of these jihadists is Nevzat Geneli. He comes from a conservative family in Konya, Central Anatolia. He says he has repeatedly brought "humanitarian aid" to Syria from aid associations in Konya since 2011. It was during this time that he met Ilhami Bali (alias Abubakir), who was responsible for the ISIS in Turkey at the time and who arranged his accession to the ISIS. With his wife and four children, Geneli went to Syria during Ramadan to join the ISIS. At that time, the Turkish authorities encouraged his ISIS accession. During personal checks Geneli is said to have been said again and again: "We know where you are going. You are an upright comrade. We would also go, but here we have our duty to the fatherland." Geneli tells that Turkish soldiers also helped him cross the border and explained to him how he could cross the border and reach ISIS territory without stepping on mines.

Commutes between Turkey and Syria

When we ask Geneli about the background of his accession to the ISIS, he states that he collected relief supplies on behalf of numerous associations in Konya and travelled to Syria several times with the cargoes. About the "aid transports" with heavy trucks he explains: "We had these green vests of the IHH Foundation, which we were supposed to wear. This was also brought by newspapers with the headline 'IHH sends ten trucks with relief supplies'. There are photos of us in front of these trucks. Some of them may also have appeared in the press. That's how the State was then. It knew me, my structure. We delivered the relief supplies with trucks and then brought them to Syria via Reyhanlı".

"Ilhami Bali wore IHH vest"

Nevzat Geneli mentions that he met a person called Ilhami in the course of his "auxiliary work", who organized his accession to the ISIS and his journey there. When we give him a picture of the high-ranking ISIS terrorist Ilhami Bali, he says, "Yes, that's the person. We distributed the relief supplies together with him on the Syrian side of Reyhanlı. We went not only once, but three times to Reyhanlı and from there to Syria and back again." Bali appeared at that time as an employee of the AKP-affiliated aid organisation IHH. "When we drove from Konya to Reyhanlı we were welcomed by about 100 people. Again journalists were there and the people cheered us. In this group was also Ilhami Bali. I don't know if he was a member of IHH, but he wore an IHH vest. I met him in Reyhanlı at that time. That was at the end of 2011."

"I went to Syria with IHH for the second time"

Geneli got to know Bali better on his second trip via IHH to Syria. After the proclamation of the "ISIS Caliphate" both met in Konya. Geneli remembers the meeting: "We were on the road in Konya, visiting apartments to collect relief supplies and preparing a few more trucks of aid. Ilhami and some of his friends came to Konya and took the things. At that time the caliphate had already been proclaimed. So the meeting took place after Baghdadi's speech. I was busy in the Ay-Der association and met Ilhami there. Then we drank a tea. He also met others in Konya, but with whom, I do not know. He was with me for one day. Then they went to Istanbul. They met there with some people and associations. Later they came back and took the relief supplies with them."

"Bali invited me and organized my border crossing"

Geneli reports that Bali had already asked him to join the ISIS in Konya: "When he was at my house, we talked. He said: 'Brother come, the Islamic state has been founded. There they live according to Islamic rules. You come to Syria too'. I answered him that I could not leave immediately because I still had debts and obligations. He gave me a phone number. After I had settled my financial affairs, I called him. I talked to my wife and we decided to leave. So we left. We did not see Ilhami again afterwards personally. He explained to me on the phone how to get to Syria and coordinated the whole thing."

Turkish police: "We also want to come"

In 2014, when Geneli joined the ISIS, there was a real mobilization in Turkey, explains the Islamist, noting that even Turkish policemen had literally encouraged him to join the ISIS. "In Ramadan 2014, after the morning prayer, we left by car for Antep. My wife and four children were with me. A friend who was supposed to bring the car back was also there. In Antep the police stopped us. They checked our IDs and asked where we were going. We said, so as not to give anything away, we were going for a walk. But the policemen said: 'Welcome brother Haji (pilgrim). It doesn't matter if you say where you're going. We know where you're going. You are true comrades. We also want to come, but we have our task and duties towards the fatherland. God willing, we will also come'.

That's how it was then. We were downright incited. There was a big shopping centre at the entrance to the motorway. We got into taxis there and drove to the border. The friend who came with us returned with my car.”

"Turkish soldiers helped us cross the border"

At the border of Antep lies the village of al-Rai (Çobanbey) on the Syrian side. Turkish soldiers helped cross the border into Syria, explains Geneli. "It was near the border. There was a military base there. There were Turkish tanks and so on. We passed the base about 300 meters away. We were about 15 people. But as I said, neither soldiers nor the police hindered us. On the contrary, we saw their willingness to help. I had three or four suitcases with me. At the border there is a trench one and a half meters wide. My youngest child could not go over there. A soldier came and helped us. I carried the bags and brought my wife over. The soldier helped my wife up on the other side and also brought my child over. So it was. There was a mobilization and we were supported. Nobody asked us to stop or anything like that."

"I contacted Turkish intelligence..."

According to Geneli, he and his family were sent to Raqqa a few days after crossing the border. After two months of military and religious training, he returned to his family. 15 days later he was injured in an air raid by the regime on a market in Tabqa. He was then operated on six times in an ISIS hospital. However, he quarreled with the militia because he did not want to call his relatives "infidels".

Geneli tells: "When I went to the ISIS, I had great religious conviction. My financial situation was good. I took care of my own treatment. However, it was not well done. When I insisted on going to Turkey, they thought I was leaving and refused me the trip. But they put money in the pockets of many other people and sent them across the border. At that time my father-in-law and my father applied to various authorities in Turkey. Then they sent me the number of a Turkish secret service man in the ISIS. His name was Özbek Ali. Although I spoke to him several times, he neither met me nor got me out."

"We didn't find anything from the ISIS we were looking for"

When asked what he imagined a life at the ISIS to be, Geneli answers that he travelled to Syria in search of "brotherhood in the Islamic state", but was bitterly disappointed. He tells: "You get into something that is planned and organized. You only know the picture as an external observer, but when you enter into this picture, completely different things come out. The strokes of the painter's brush have caused us pain. It is beautiful to look at a fire in the fireplace. But it is quite different when you go in and you are a piece of wood that is consumed. It was the same with us. The ISIS commanders were incredibly arrogant. They were absolutely pitiless. We came with the dream of brotherhood. But I didn't find this either for me or for my family. We wanted to go, I was injured, my wife didn't leave me, we couldn’t get out. When the Turkish secret service did not help us either, we stayed. They said if we surrendered to the SDF, they would separate all the men and kill them. Out of fear we stayed."

Nevzat Geneli and his family surrendered to the SDF on 3 February 2019 in al-Bagouz in Deir ez-Zor region. Since then he has been detained in a prison of the Autonomous Administration while the family lives in a camp for the members of ISIS jihadists.

"The state has spurred us on"

Geneli feels left alone by the Turkish state. "From everywhere people flocked to Jabhat al-Nusra and the ISIS. They all travelled through Turkey. Turkey was the pilot region and opened its borders wide. Between 500 and 1000 people crossed the border daily. Did the secret service of such a powerful country as Turkey not know anything about it? Today the government claims to have known nothing about them and calls them enemies. Bro, you have fed them, you have sown the whole thing! The police could have told us, ‘compatriot, this is wrong, you don't know where you are going, stay here', they could have stopped me. But no. They said I was a true comrade and they would come if they could and they spurred me on. On the contrary, we go to the border and get help from soldiers. They take our suitcase and our children across the border. They take them by the hand and say, 'Go that way, not that way, there are mines there. Go in the tracks of the goats’. The soldiers show us the right way. I also did my military service in this country. A soldier does what the state orders him to do. The soldiers helped everyone who came and went. Where is this helpfulness today?"

Who's Ilhami Bali?

Ilhami Bali is code-named Abu Bakr al-Turki, was born in Saudi Arabia in 1982 and grew up in Reyhanli. Before the ISIS was founded, he was responsible for Reyhanli for the jihadist militia Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra-Front). With the split of al-Nusra, he joined the ISIS faction. From 2014 to 2016, Bali commanded an ISIS unit called "Hayat al-Hicra" and was a kind of "customs inspector" of the ISIS at the border, responsible for logistics and coordination. Since 2012 he has been under surveillance by the Turkish secret service and his telephone has been tapped. Bali is considered one of the main suspects for the ISIS massacres between 7 June and 1 November 2015. He is responsible for the capture of the Turkish soldier Sefter Taş in December 2016. The soldier was subsequently burned alive by the ISIS. Bali was severely charged in testimonies of the captured ISIS jihadists. Nevertheless, he is said to have been a guest of MIT in a luxury hotel in Ankara between 27 and 29 May 2019.

Some ISIS prisoners claimed to have seen Bali before the fall of the last ISIS bastion Hajin, but that he later disappeared. A year later he is said to have appeared near Deir ez-Zor as part of an ISIS unit and was killed in a bombing during an attempt to flee to Turkey. Other ISIS prisoners reported in conversations with us that Bali is still alive and they suspect him to be in Idlib or Turkey.