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ISIS in Turkey? Using Open Source to Find Out

October 1, 2014

By Aaron Stein

After weeks of clashes between the Islamic State and the Kurdish YPG in Kobane, the Turkish government has beefed up security at the border. Turkey has reportedly deployed between five and fifteen tanks between the Mursitpinar and Yumurtalik border crossings. The tanks were deployed after the fighting prompted thousands of Kurds to flee from Kobane to Turkey. The three Kurdish cantons in Syria, known collectively as Rojava, are administered by the PYD – a group with strong ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey considers the PKK to be a terrorist organization and has been engaged in low-level civil conflict with the group since 1984.

Despite these measures, IMC TV, a local Turkish television station, broadcast images of numerous men crossing from Syria in to Turkey, or from Turkey in to Syria.

The Kurdish Political Party, HDP, has reported that the fighters who entered are members of IS. The ID is far from definitive. However, by using geo-location and other open source clues, perhaps I can help to identify where these men came from and who they are fighting with.

After the video was first posted, the Turkish daily Radikal published a clearer image of some of the fighters under the headline, “IŞİD Kobani’ye Türkiye’den mi geçiyor?” (Has ISIS Gone to Kobane from Turkey?)



The video of the event does help to identify the location of the alleged crossing. The train tracks in the video run along the Turkish side of the Turkey-Syria border.


There are numerous underpasses in the area, but only one with what appears to be water run off that moves from Turkey into Syria.


On the Syrian side of the border, the drainage ditch appears to curve from left to right (if you are looking at the picture). This also helped for me to narrow down the location.


This then allowed for me to use google earth to geo-locate the position of the video. Based upon the imagery, I believe that the tunnel in question is near the border town of Karaca.


If one zooms in, you can see the distinctive drainage ditch. It is relatively straight on the Turkish side of the border, but then curves from left to right on the Syrian side.


The video therefore appears to show men in territory west of the Kobane canton (Ayn al Arab).


Moreover, at the end of the video, the camera pans from right to left. At the 5:02 mark, one can clearly see a small building in the background.


That building is visible on google earth. To the north east of the building, one can clearly see a small group of men, and what looks like a vehicle, sitting on a small hill.


The location appears to be in this area.



The open source evidence does suggest that the men either crossed from territory west of Kobane in to Turkey near the town of Karaca, or were crossing from the Karaca area to Syria. Those men wore military style fatigues. The men tucked those fatigues in to their trousers and boots. The location and the style of dress suggest that the men are fighters from ISIS, but that ID is not definitive. They could certainly be from another group, but that group needs to be operating in the area where I think the video was filmed. Moreover, the YPG dresses a bit differently, although there are certainly similarities to some of the images of Kurdish fighters that have been posted online.

The video, however, does not give any evidence that points to Turkey allowing IS to transit its territory to fight the YPG in Kobane. What it does show is that Turkey’s border remains porous. This is understandable, given how long the border is. But it is clear that military deployments are still sporadic, even in areas that border conflict zones.

Aaron Stein

Aaron Stein is an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is also the nonproliferation program manager at the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies in Istanbul, where he works on security and proliferation issues in the Middle East.

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  1. Patryk Koniecpolski

    This place is packed with Turkish army and intelligence at the moment and the footage in question was being aired for at least half an hour. That Turkey knew seems beyond any discussion. Knowing and doing nothing about it – despite having all the means to prevent it – pretty much constitutes the evidence that indeed Turkey is allowing IS to cross its borders to fight Kobani.

  2. Scott

    Although they are technically in Turkey, there is a border fence to the NW of them. The video never shows them across the fence. This area is freely accessible from Syria.

  3. realjourny

    95% of the article isn’t even about the identity of the men, but you geo-locating the location, which I doubt anybody is actually keeping a secret.. Anyway..

    You seem to make an assumption to be a fact when all you’ve done is counter an assumption with someone else’s assumptions by the end of it.

    In the context of things and the bigger picture, everyone has been saying Turkey is not stopping ISIS and in fact helping them by having a blind eye to them crossing. ISIS basically use Turkey to cross into Syra. All the foreign arabs / jihadis come through Turkey, land at Istanbul and head to the border, with one way tickets. This is simply a link to that claim and to connect the facts together to support the idea, because you’re not going to see the government of turkey actually shaking hands.

    Anyway, there’s another video recent video of turk soldiers chatting with isis and it’s very clear that they are keeping a neutral pack, to avoid fighting so IS can completely focus on kurds.

  4. agitpapa

    You should be ashamed of publishing such a disingenuous and misleading story. Zoom in another notch and you will see a big “H” just south of Karaca where the heli landing pad of the border outpost is. The outpost is the biggest building in Karaca, the inverted E visible even on your purposefully low-zoom sat image. There is a military forward defense position even closer, at 275 meters from the underpass, with 3 armored vehicles. There are 4 different military ouposts within a 1.5 km radius of that underpass. The entire border is dotted with such outposts. Do you really expect anyone to believe that Turkey is going to leave a border with the PKK on the other side unguarded?

    There is no “porous border” there. Turkey monitors every inch of it. The IS is Turkey’s proxy army and your pretense of objective expertise has just been blown out of the water.


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