Coalition spy chaperoned UK schoolgirls to ISIS in Syria

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Syrian president ASSAD waves to supporters during a recent rally
Syrian president ASSAD waves to supporters during a recent rally

THE Turkish authorities have captured a person working for the intelligence agency of a coalition country in connection with the journey of three teenaged British girls to Syria, supposedly to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday 12 March.

The three friends, two aged 15 and the other 16, left their East London homes last month and travelled to Gatwick Airport, where they caught a Turkish Airlines (THY) flight to Istanbul without telling their families.

They are believed to have crossed into Syria to join ISIS.

In televised remarks, Cavusoglu said the person who had been captured had helped the three girls. ‘And do you know who that person turned out to be? They turned out to be a person working for the intelligence agency of a coalition country,’ he told the A Haber station.

Cavusoglu did not say which country the person came from but added it was not the US or a European Union member. In addition to the US and EU countries, the anti-ISIS coalition also includes Arab partners such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as well as countries like Australia and Canada.

Security sources told the Hurriyet Daily News on March 12 that the suspect detained was a Syrian national working for Canadian intelligence, without elaborating.

The Canadian Embassy in Ankara declined to comment on the issue.

Officials said the suspect was still in custody and the related country was informed about the situation.

Cavusoglu did not give details about the suspect in the interview, but said the country was neither an EU member nor the United States, adding that he had briefed British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond about the case. Hammond responded by saying ‘just as usual’ when he received the information, Cavusoglu said.

The three teenage girls from London feared to have run off to join ISIS are believed to have crossed into Syria from Turkey, British police said.

Turkey, which has been accused by its Western allies of failing to do enough to stop jihadists crossing into Syria from its territory, had earlier accused Britain of failing to provide information about the girls sooner.

Cavusoglu also said Turkey was ready to support the establishment of ‘local guards’ in Iraq.

‘The establishment of local guards in Iraq is the Iraqi government’s decision. We cannot say there is a regular army in Iraq at the moment,’ he said, while reiterating that Turkey will not take part in any ground operation to retake Mosul.

Turkey will provide training and equipment, mostly training for local guards of Mosul, which will be composed of people of the province, Cavusoglu said.

More than 50 regime soldiers and Islamist fighters were killed as they battled over a strategic hilltop in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s home province, a monitoring group said on Thursday.

Government forces clashed with al-Qaeda-affiliated militants backed by other armed Islamist groups in a village in Latakia province in the northwest.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting broke out Wednesday and raged through the night in Jabal al-Akrad district, a rare rebel stronghold in the province, which is the heartland of the ruling Assad clan.

Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front and its allies were seeking to recapture the village of Dourine, which overlooks their positions in one of the district’s main towns, Salma. They lost the village to Assad’s forces last week after holding it for more than year.

‘The clashes on Wednesday led to 50 dead from both sides. There are many casualties because the fighters are facing off directly,’ said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

‘Al-Nusra managed to retake parts of the village, but the regime still controls the hilltop that overlooks Salma,’ he said.

The mountainous district of Jabal al-Akrad, which translates to Mountain of the Kurds, is the main rebel stronghold in Latakia province. Despite its name, it is populated mostly by Sunni Arabs who were early supporters of the protests against the Assad government in 2011.

Jabal al-Akrad lies close to villages populated by Alawites, who belong to the same offshoot of Shiite Islam as Assad.

The region is one of multiple fronts in the four-year Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 210,000 people. In the central province of Homs, at least five soldiers were killed on Thursday when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden car at an army checkpoint, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Syria’s state news agency SANA also reported the blast. It said four people were killed, without specifying whether they were soldiers or civilians. The Islamic State jihadist group claimed a similar attack near a gas facility in the area in late December.

Meanwhile the Russian Foreign Ministry said Russia is outraged over Western attempts to frame the Syrian government for using chemical weapons in Syria.

‘Statements by Western officials and commentaries in foreign newspapers had emerged blaming, uncorroborated, the Syrian government for incidents involving the use of chlorine gas in Syria,’ said the Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement.

‘They claim that the UN latest resolution 2209 amounts to a warning to the Syrian government that punitive measures are likely in the future under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which is an irksome matter,’ the statement added.

The UN resolution, the statement said, stopped short of finger-pointing in the chemical weapons’ issue; hence any other interpretation of the resolution is ‘a biased reading.’

‘Had nailing down culprits on the issue been that easy, there would be no point in the OPCW mission probing the use of chlorine continuing its work,’ said the statement.

The statement said that the OPCW, the UN chemical weapons watchdog, will go ahead with investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria, taking into account the information that the Syrian government passed to the organisation in December 2014.

The information revealed that non-governmental sides had seized amounts of chlorine, which lends authenticity to the assumption that the Syrian opposition’s fighters might be involved in the use of the chemical agent. The UN Security Council had passed a resolution on March 6 condemning the use of chlorine gas in Syria. The resolution did not identify who was behind it.

• Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign and Expatriates Minister Walid al-Moallem stressed on Saturday that the globally-devised conspiracy against Syria has hit rock bottom.

Four years into the crisis, the dimensions of the conspiracy have reached deadlock thanks to the steadfastness of the Syrian army and people, said al-Moallem during a meeting with the visiting Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sin Hong Chol.

Syria, he made it clear, is bent on fighting terrorism and defending its people and their interests. While stressing Syria’s determination in this regard, al-Moallam said, Damascus is also determined to bolstering relations with Democratic Korea in all areas.

Chol, for his part, stressed his country’s support for Syria’s resolve on both combating terrorism and developing bilateral relations.

As Democratic Korea will continue backing the Syrian leadership in its war against the Western, Arab, regional-backed terrorism, it is also ready to push forward the bilateral cooperation with Syria in all domains, said Chol.

The meeting was attended by Deputy Foreign and Expatriates Minister Fayssal Mikdad, who met with Chol yesterday after the latter’s arrival in Syria leading a delegation on a visit to hold talks with Syrian officials.

l US Secretary of State John Kerry says Washington should finally negotiate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to reach an agreement over the country’s conflict.

‘We have to negotiate in the end,’ Kerry said in an interview with CBS News on Sunday. ‘We’ve always been willing to negotiate in the context of the Geneva I process,’ he said.

The top US diplomat said his country is looking for steps to bring the Syrian president to the negotiation table. What we’re pushing for is to get him to come and do that, and it may require that there be increased pressure on him of various kinds in order to do that,’ Kerry said.

‘We’ve made it very clear to people that we are looking at increased steps that can help bring about that pressure,’ he added.

Kerry also said he is convinced that there will be increased pressure on President Assad with the efforts of US allies and other countries.

The new remarks were made despite earlier comments by the Obama administration’s officials over the Syrian president’s ousting.