600 French citizens are part of ISIL, says former squad leader

İlhan Tanır, the Washington correspondent for the online news portal Haberdar.com, wrote in an article published by Cumhuriyet on Tuesday that a Syrian guide he had met while traveling in Syria in 2012 named Said had told him that a number of ISIL terrorists were being sent back to the European countries they came from to carry out terrorist attacks.

According to Said, who is only known by his first name, the largest group of foreign fighters in ISIL is made up of Turks, followed by the French. Said told Tanır there are over 600 French citizens in ISIL at the moment and that they are spread around the towns near Aleppo in northern Syria. He added that many of the French foreign fighters were of African descent.

ISIL, a terrorist group that controls large swathes of land in both Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks at a stadium, a concert hall and Paris restaurants that left 129 dead and over 350 wounded, with least 99 of them in critical condition.

Stating that he got in touch with Said after the Paris attacks, Tanır wrote that the former guide for journalists wanting to enter Syria told him that “ISIL’s aim was always these types of attacks. No doubt the attention it [ISIL] receives will increase, as will its desirability. More people in Europe will want to be ISIL’s soldiers.”

Said, according to Tanır, was a guide-turned squad leader for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has been locked in a four-and-a-half-year battle against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, a struggle that has cost the lives of over 250,000 people. Tanır states Said later joined ISIL, a terrorist extremist group controlling great swathes of land in Iraq and Syria that is known for its brutal methods of torture and execution.

Said also told Tanır that at one time ISIL terrorists entered and exited Turkey as they pleased. “The Turkish government was not stopping foreign fighters, especially those from Europe. What more could ISIL want from Turkey?”

Turkey has recently come under pressure from Western allies to ramp up its fight against ISIL and tighten control of its porous 900-kilometer-long border with Syria that ISIL has used to obtain supplies and fighters.

But, in turn, Turkey has long complained about a lack of robust intelligence sharing and urged the West to provide more information about potential suspects before they travel. A senior Turkish official said Ankara had twice notified France about one of the Paris attackers but had only received a request for more information after the attacks.

The former ISIL squad leader told Tanır that after border controls got tighter in Turkey, ISIL commanders changed tactics and told the ISIL members who had returned to Europe to carry out attacks “wherever they were,” adding that video footage of foreign fighters allegedly burning their European passports is only for show.