The Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group ran a sophisticated immigration operation through a Syrian border town with Turkey until its defeat in the area by Kurds this summer, documents obtained by The Guardian and released Sunday suggest.
Passenger manifests dated between December 2014 and March 2015, which were seized by Kurdish commanders in Tel Abyad, carry the stamps of ISIS’s “department of immigration” and “department of transport”, according to the British newspaper.
The manifests show that buses passed through the town having submitted the names, dates of births, ID numbers and even birthplace of scores of travelers.
Most of the registered passengers were travelling from within ISIS-held territory. One manifest shows a group of five male and female Tunisians aged 23-36 entering the area. They are registered as coming from Kairouan, a city south of the Tunisian capital, Tunis, known to be a hotbed of radicalism.
Kairouan is where gunman Seifeddine Rezgui, who massacred 30 British tourists on a Sousse beach in June, was studying, noted The Guardian.
Tunisia is the biggest source of foreign fighters entering Syria. In October, the Tunisian government estimated that 6,000 fighters had left Tunisia headed for the conflict, the newspaper reported.
Turkey has long said that it is unable to secure its 500-mile border with Syria. In January, as ISIS was logging people passing in and out of Tel Abyad, the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, told the Independent that sealing the border would be impossible.
“We cannot put soldiers everywhere on the border. In any case, there isn’t any state on the other side [of the frontier].” he said at the time.
A Turkish diplomat speaking to The Guardian last month re-emphasized how difficult it was to stop fighters sneaking across the border at night.
The manifests were sent to The Guardian by Syrian Kurdish forces spokesman, Redur Xelil, and bear the same stamp marks and logos as other ISIS documents the newspaper has been able to verify. Spanning four months, they meticulously record 70 passengers, 28 of whom were under 18, including seven babies.
According to The Guardian, some buses were detailed as heading to the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, about 40 miles south of Tel Abyad, while others were full of families from Mosul, which ISIS conquered last year.
The border crossing remained open until Kurdish forces took control of the town in June, at which point Turkey promptly sealed it. The crossing remains closed, a government official confirmed.
The findings are not the first time that Turkey has been discovered to be unable to protect its border from jihadists crossing into Syria.
Ankara was particularly criticized over its failure to stop three British teenage girls who crossed the Turkey-Syria border to join ISIS last February.
The three teens, Shamima Begum, 15, Amira Abase, also 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, are now feared to have reached the conflict zone and are believed to be staying at a house in Raqqa.
Turkey fiercely rejects the accusations, saying it is making every effort to secure a long border and in turn has accused the West of not playing its part to shoulder the burden of hosting refugees from Syria.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister has in the past appealed for more help in cracking down on foreign fighters flooding to join terrorists in Iraq and Syria.
Syria, for its part, has accused Turkey of allowing "terrorists" to freely cross the border. This accusation came last year after it was revealed that the wife of one of the attackers of the Hyper Cacher kosher market in Paris entered Syria from Turkey.