“The Western world thinks there is no ISIS in their countries — that all the jihadis have gone to fight and die in Syria. But this man said, ‘No. We are sending our fighters to take their places.’”
“Smuggler Says He Sent ISIS Fighters To Europe,” by Mike Giglio and Munzer al-Awad, BuzzFeed, November 11, 2014:
ISTANBUL — Extremist fighters have been brought into mainland Europe, hidden amid boatloads of Syrian refugees, according to a veteran smuggler who claims to have done so himself.
The smuggler, who has been given the pseudonym Hassan here, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News that since the summer he has sent more than 10 Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters into Europe.
Hassan’s claim was impossible to verify — and Western officials said they’d seen no evidence that such a scenario was taking place. His testimony, plus that of a second human trafficker who offered a similar account, marked the first time someone claiming direct involvement has said publicly that such a plan is underway.
Hassan has worked in the trade for more than three years. He charges $2,500 for each refugee he sends to Europe from Turkey, shipping them by boat to Greece. He said he views it as “humanitarian work,” on top of the profit he makes. But he said he had grown uncomfortable with the dark turn this work has taken since he began allowing ISIS fighters to mix with the refugees on his crowded speedboats.
Hassan said the fighters were all Syrian or Iraqis posing as refugees. He believed they remained loyal to ISIS and were prepared to launch terrorist attacks in Europe. “They are waiting for their orders,” Hassan said. “Just wait. You will see.”
Fears of an ISIS attack in Europe have centered on the danger posed by the continent’s own citizens. Around 3,000 Europeans have joined ISIS, according to the European Union’s counter-terrorism chief, and there are longstanding concerns that some may return to sow terror at home. Recently, there have also been rumblings of an ISIS threat among the unending torrent of Syrian refugees. Some Western officials reportedly believe that ISIS has considered the same plot that Hassan described.
One official with the British government stressed that any potential threat from ISIS should be kept “in perspective.”
“We’re talking about millions of people that need help,” the official said. “We should not get to the stage where we start to fear Syrian refugees as a terrorist threat in Europe.”Of course not! Why, the very idea is inconceivable!
Hassan is a former white-collar professional in his 30s with a young family. Fearing for his safety, he met for an interview on the condition that his real name not be used. His nationality and the city where he works are also being withheld, as are details of his story that might identify him to the ISIS members allegedly involved.
Hassan began working as a smuggler before Syria erupted in revolt in March 2011. In addition to Syria, Turkey shares borders with Iraq and Iran, and refugees have long used it as a gateway to Europe, mainly traveling overland into Greece and Bulgaria or by boat to Greece, Cyprus, and Italy. These smuggling attempts spiked with the onset of Syria’s civil war, which has flooded Turkey with more than 1 million refugees. According to Frontex, the EU’s border agency, more than 20,000 refugees, many of them Syrians, were smuggled from Turkey into Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus in the first eight months of this year.
Hassan said that one day this summer, he met a clean-shaven client who looked “like a simple refugee.” The two struck up a friendship, and Hassan learned that the man was a mid-level official with ISIS. The man was blunt about his reason for heading to Europe, Hassan said — he wanted to be ready to stage attacks there. “The Western world thinks there is no ISIS in their countries — that all the jihadis have gone to fight and die in Syria,” Hassan said. “But this man said, ‘No. We are sending our fighters to take their places.’”
When the man landed in Greece, he called Hassan with a message: “We want you to bring our brothers too.”
Hassan said that in the months that followed, the ISIS man sent him more than 10 additional clients. Hassan didn’t speak much to these men — but he believed that they were ISIS fighters too. Each paid about $1,000 more than the other passengers for the boat journeys he organized, blending in with the Syrian refugees. “It’s easy for them to go to Europe,” Hassan said. “They can come to any smuggler and say they are refugees.”…