James Clapper
James ClapperReuters

Turkey does not place a high priority on fighting Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists and as a result foreign fighters are able to travel through the country into Syria, United States intelligence chief James Clapper said Thursday, according to AFP.

Asked if he was optimistic that Turkey would take a more active role in the war against ISIS, Clapper told senators: "No, I'm not."

"I think Turkey has other priorities and other interests," he was quoted as having told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Turkish government was more concerned with Kurdish opposition and the country's economy, the director of national intelligence said.

"Public opinion polls show in Turkey they don't see ISIL as a primary threat," said Clapper, using an alternative acronym for the group.

The effect of Turkey's approach was to allow a "permissive" climate for foreign recruits heading to Syria to take arms for ISIS, he said.

"And of course, the consequence of that is a permissive environment... because of their laws and the ability of people to travel through Turkey en route to Syria," Clapper said.

"So somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 percent of those foreign fighters find their way to Syria through Turkey."

Clapper said some other governments in the Middle East have been reluctant to join the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS because of Washington's reluctance to directly confront Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's regime.

But the "brutal savagery" of ISIS, including the beheadings of hostages and the immolation of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot, "have had a galvanizing effect on opinion in the Mideast region," he said, according to AFP.

Clapper’s comments come a week after the United States and Turkey signed a deal to train and equip Syrian rebel forces.

Turkey, a vocal critic of Assad, wants supposedly moderate rebels factions to be trained to battle both the regime in Damascus as well as ISIS insurgents who have seized large chunks of territory in Iraq and Syria right up to the Turkish border.

The comments also come after three teenage British girls had crossed into Syria through Turkey in order to join ISIS.

Trying to shift blame from his nation's porous borders that jihadists have long taken advantage as the premier route to jihad in Syria, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bulent Arinc told Turkish reporters that the UK was at fault.

"It is a reprehensible act for Britain, a country famous for its Scotland Yard, to let the three girls...leave Heathrow airport (London) for Istanbul and then let us know three days later," Arinc said, claiming they were notified three days after the girls arrived in Istanbul.

Arinc's complaints echo similar remarks made by Turkish officials after Hayat Boumeddiene, the wanted partner of one of the gunmen behind the January terror attacks in France, traveled undetected through Turkey on her way to Syria.

In that case, Ankara accused the French authorities of failing to share information in a timely manner about the wanted woman's departure for Turkey.