12 Mar 2015

Talking Turkey: politics, the 'foreign spy' and the British schoolgirls

The Turkish Foreign Minister has claimed on television that somebody working for an intelligence agency allied against “Islamic State” has been caught after allegedly helping the three missing British girls cross the border to join …”Islamic State”.

The minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, did not say which country this person came from, but added that it was not from the US or European Union. It is also unclear if he is referring to an intelligence officer from a “friendly” country or an agent working on that foreign power’s behalf.

The immediate assumption was that a Gulf Arab State was implicated: Saudi Arabia, Jordan or the United Arab Emirates perhaps, the idea being that somebody working for these countries was more likely to “run with the hare and the hounds” – in other words, be part of the coalition against IS but have sympathies and links with it.

But two government sources, one of them in the Turkish Prime Minister’s office, say that the individual worked for a western and not Arab state.

One source has named Canada. I am still waiting to hear back from the Canadians for a response.


Even if true, Turkey’s allies will be furious that this dirty laundry has been aired in public. It appears as if somebody working for a friendly country either deliberately or inadvertently helped the British girls reach their destination, shattering both the competence and the appearance of unity the anti-IS coalition likes to profess.

The Turkish foreign minister is quoted as having told his British counterpart about this individual. “As usual,” was apparently the British response.

But this is a very Turkish story, with a political purpose.

The Turks are under fire, and rightly so, for failing to defend their border with Syria. For years they have turned a blind eye to militants crossing over, in the hope that they would topple the regime of President Assad.

So the Turks take advantage of every opportunity to point out when others are at fault – whether that be the Metropolitan Police for failing to alert them quickly enough about the girls’ disappearance; or the French police hunting for a female suspect linked to the attack on a Jewish supermarket in Paris.

As a Turkish friend of mine in Istanbul put it this afternoon, “the Turks like to say ‘what can we do to protect our border when even our allies work against us’? The Turks like to muddy the waters – but not to call a cat a cat.”



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