How seven radicalised young Britons a week are taking the Gateway to Jihad
• The ‘Gateway to Jihad’ is along an open stretch of rugged Turkish border
• Estimated 20 foreign recruits use it to cross into Syria and Iraq every day
• There, border guards turn a blind eye for as little as 10 US dollars
• Number of UK recruits has increased since creation of the ‘Jihad Express’
• Up to 1,000 Britons and UK residents have now joined the extremists
• And up to 250 fighters are thought to have crossed on their return to the UK
It is known simply as the ‘Gateway to Jihad’.
This is the wide open stretch of rugged Turkish border where an average of seven Britons a week are crossing over to Syria and Iraq.
It is the same route used by the Cardiff trio who appeared on a jihad recruitment video, a one-time rapper, a computer hacker and one-time privately educated college boy – all of whom are now at the centre of British investigations as they boast on Twitter of their exploits.
As the Mail witnessed, it is an alarmingly easy route to terror where border guards can turn a blind eye for as little as ten US dollars and an estimated 20 foreign recruits are travelling each day.
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Up to 1,000 Britons and UK residents have now joined the extremists spreading terror across Syria and Iraq – more than double as many as the Government admits, according to security sources.
Disturbingly, intelligence agencies believe that the number of UK recruits travelling through this alarmingly open ‘gateway’ to IS strongholds of northern Syria is increasing since the self-proclaimed creation of a caliphate stretching from Syria to Iraq.
It is no coincidence that virtually all the young radicalised Britons have joined up by crossing this porous, poorly policed Turkish border of mountain passes and plains without confronting security
The route is now dubbed the ‘Jihad Express’ or ‘Gateway to Jihad’.
And crucially, it is from this border that up to 250 battle-hardened fighters are thought to have crossed on their return to the UK, posing a huge threat to those in the UK and a massive headache for the security services and police.
The all-too-easy journey taken by home-grown fanatics from the UK to the increasingly barbaric civil war begins with them arriving in Turkey disguised often as British tourists enjoying a holiday.
Like many of their fellow fighters, the three Cardiff school friends – gap-year student Nasser Muthana, 20, his brother Aseel, 17, and their friend Reyaad Khan, 20 – are said to have jetted-in on a tourist fight to Antalya, in southern Turkey, after paying for a one-week stay at a five-star spa resort.
They apparently vanished at 7am the day after checking in. An inspection of their room revealed two abandoned suitcases and a discarded beard trimmer.
A taxi driver said they had asked the fare to Konya in eastern Turkey, then taken a bus instead. A hotel source said MI6 agents came to take their abandoned belongings.
Others simply use gleaming new Hatay airport, built just ten miles from the Syrian border.
Once in eastern Turkey, British jihadis hook up with IS handlers and embark on spending sprees in local army equipment shops.
In frontier town Reyhanli, a bombed-out staging post for hundreds of fighters, shop owner Abu Saleh said European jihadis buy hunting knives, sniper rifle sights, binoculars and desert camouflage fatigues.
He said one bearded man walked in waving $50,000 (£30,000) in bundles of cash and bought a thousand ‘magazine vests’ for carrying spare AK47 rifle ammunition clips.
At the nearby Miray Hotel, a busload of 30 Britons recently stayed on their way to Syria, the manager said. In another town on the tinderbox frontier, Kilis, a smuggler called Ibrahim said he drove five Britons dressed in Afghan garb over the line by simply bribing a border guard with ‘less than ten dollars’.
The Mail has witnessed just how easy the crossing is. On a dry, dusty track that is one of the ancient smuggling routes criss-crossing over the hills to Syria, there is nothing but scraps of broken barbed wire marking the border.
The path leads down to the Orontes river, which meanders through the valley of olive plantations, and on the other side is Syria.
A Turkish army truck full of soldiers drove by. They barely glanced at a gaggle of smugglers from local villages who were busy carting oil drums and boxes of food and medicine down to the riverbank, to be pulled across on makeshift rafts.
At sunset, jihadis slip into Syria the same way, without ever encountering a border official. Similar scenes unfold at hundreds of unguarded points along a border that stretches 560 mountainous miles.
‘When they cross over, they kneel and cry, they weep,’ said one smuggler. ‘They believe this land, Syria, is where God’s judgment will come to pass.’
Among those who have made it across is apparently a ‘blond-haired, blue-eyed, British heart surgeon’ running an IS field hospital and going by the nom de guerre ‘Abu Osama al-Brittani’.
Ahmed Al-Kateed, who fled the civil war to live in Turkey, said: ‘I went back to Syria because an Italian mother paid me to retrieve her dead son’s body. Near Aleppo, I met six British fighters and one of them was this white British doctor.’
He said the ‘surgeon’ told him he had abandoned a £120,000-a-year job in the NHS and bought himself a top-of-the-range AK47.
Keeping tabs on the fanatics is an uphill struggle for intelligence services. Such is IS’s network of contacts and use of social media that recruits are told how to leave Britain – always travelling to Turkey via other countries to avoid suspicion at UK borders and using a variety of methods of travel – who to contact in Turkey and which hotels and safe houses to use.
Once in accommodation they make contact with a telephone number or email address and, usually, within 48 hours they are picked up and taken across the border to IS training camps.
In Hatay province, which borders Syria, governor Celalettin Lekesiz dismisses all talk of foreign fighters as ‘urban legends’.
But a leaked secret memo he wrote to his superiors, seen by the Mail, reveals the embarrassing truth that hundreds of fighters have been thumbing their noses at his border guards.
His memo speaks in tones of panic, and says that, on March 15 this year for example, 150 armed men sneaked across the border, staying en-route at the Kent Hotel in Reyhanli.
Unofficial operations are on-going to track the militants in the border area, but Turkey has been reluctant to stop anyone from crossing.
For months they have allowed weapons and supplies destined for recognised Syrian opposition groups to cross and European governments have been frustrated that little appears to have been done to stop the jihadis.
A large force of jihadis is reported to be moving towards the border. Their goal is to provide a guaranteed gateway through the 130-mile frontier. If that happens, it will make the ‘Jihad Express’ even simpler.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2734239/How-seven-radicalised-young-Britons-week-taking-Gateway-Jihad.html#ixzz3BXkKVRsZ
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