Allegations grow as Turkey is accused of funding Syrian radicals and profiting from ISIS oil

The third assassination of a Syrian journalist by ISIS in Turkey has raised concerns of how much control or, according to some, support the militant group has in the NATO country.

Award winning filmmaker and journalist Naji Jerf was killed on December 27. A masked man, believed to be allied with the Islamic State, shot him twice in the face and torso during the day in Gaziantep, Turkey only 40km from the Syrian border.

Jerf reported on ISIS abuses in Syria, and released a 24 minute film two weeks before his murder that documents the atrocities committed by the Islamic State in 2013 and 2014. The 37-year-old also trained hundreds of citizen journalists for his organization, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS).

After receiving death threats from ISIS militants, and finding a bomb in his car in November, Jerf was scheduled to leave Turkey on December 28 as he and his family were granted asylum in France.

“He was mostly worried about his family because he knows what he was doing and could expect the consequences,” said Aref Krez, an activist who worked with Jerf.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Syria topped the 2015 list with the most journalists killed with 13 (19% of all journalists killed in 2015), France came in second with 9, and Brazil came in third with 6.

Jerf is the third journalist to be killed in Turkey this year. The first two were killed in October in Urfa, another city 40km from the Syrian border. Syrians in Urfa have refused interviews, and begun to leave the country, as they fear retribution from ISIS and believe are operating in southern Turkey.

“Syrian journalists who have fled to Turkey for their safety are not safe at all,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa coordinator,  “we call on Turkish authorities to bring the killers of Naji Jerf to justice swiftly and transparently, and to step up measures to protect all Syrian journalists on Turkish soil.”

Turkish authorities have opened an investigation into the three murders, but have made no arrests so far.

“Syrian journalists who have fled to Turkey for their safety are not safe at all.”

Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa coordinator

Turkish Censorship

Turkey has recently come under fire for silencing journalists, as some have reported on Turkish support for Syrian radicals.

In a first-person report published in The Guardian by Can Dündar, a truck believed to belong to the Turkish intelligence service approached the Syrian border from Turkey with medicine boxes, weapons, and ammunition for Syrian radicals. However, even after being searched, it was allowed to cross into Syria. The Turkish government declared that the trucks only contained humanitarian aid, but acquired footage of the incident confirmed that the intelligence service was illegally carrying weapons into Syria. When the news spread, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan censored the story and threatened the journalists responsible, claiming, “the person who wrote this story will pay a heavy price for it; I won’t let him go unpunished.”  Erdoğan called the act espionage, and wanted Dündar imprisoned for two life sentences on charges of treason and revealing confidential documents.  Dündar was arrested on November 26th and placed in solitary confinement in Istanbul.

Sponsoring Terrorism

Some have further accused Turkey of directly funding ISIS through its oil trade and providing ISIS easy access to the border.

After the Turkish military shot down a Russian warplane in November, the Russian government accused Turkey, and specifically Erdoğan and his family, of sponsoring terror in Syria and profiting from the Islamic State’s illegal crude oil operation. Two weeks later, the Russian military provided what they said was proof of Turkey’s participation with ISIS’s crude trade. Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defence, Anatoly Antonov, called the oil trade Erdoğan’s “lovely family oil business.” Turkey and the United States have dismissed the claims.

A petition on the White House website acquired nearly 39,000 signatures to have Turkey listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, but the petition was branded as "not having met the signature requirements" and archived.