TIME National Security

Chicago Teen Arrested for Trying to Join ISIS

The FBI intercepted him at O'Hare as he was allegedly on his way to join the militant group

A Chicago teenager was arrested at O’Hare International Airport over the weekend while allegedly attempting to go to Turkey to join the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), officials said Monday.

Mohammed Hamzah Khan, 19, was arrested by the FBI before he boarded a flight to Vienna on his way to Istanbul, and has been charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday by the Department of Justice. Khan is a U.S. citizen.

While he was at the airport, the FBI executed a search warrant at Khan’s family home and found handwritten documents expressing support for ISIS and a desire to fight along side the group, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court. The documents included travel plans, drawings of the ISIS flag and flags of other known terrorist organizations, and a page that included writing in Arabic that, using another name for ISIS, said: “Islamic State in Iraq and Levant. Here to stay. We are the lions of war [unintelligible.] My nation, the dawn has emerged.”

Law enforcement also found a letter written to Khan’s parents that appeared to explain his thinking. He told them not to contact the authorities, that he was intending to “migrate” to ISIS “now that it has been established,” and that he was upset that his taxes were being used to kill his “Muslim brothers and sisters.”

Khan was in federal court Monday and was ordered held at least until a detention hearing on Oct. 9, the Associated Press reports. If convicted of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, Khan could face up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

TIME Turkey

Turkey Approves Military Operations in Iraq, Syria

Parliament voted 298-98 in favor of the motion

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s parliament has approved a motion that gives the government new powers to launch military incursions into Syria and Iraq and to allow foreign forces to use its territory for possible operations against the Islamic State group.

Parliament voted 298-98 in favor of the motion which sets the legal framework for any Turkish military involvement in Iraq or Syria, and for the potential use of Turkish bases by foreign troops.

Turkey has joined a U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group but has yet to define what role it intends to play.

TIME History

Archaeologists Believe They Found Dracula’s Dungeon

Circa 1450, Portrait of Vlad Tepes 'Vlad the Impaler'(c 1431-1476), from a painting in Castle Ambras in the Tyrol.
Circa 1450, portrait of Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler, from a painting in Castle Ambras in the Tyrol Stock Montage/Getty Images

The dungeon believed to have held Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for the blood-thirsty character, was recently discovered in Turkey

Archeologists in Turkey have reportedly made a spooky discovery, just in time for the start of Halloween season: the dungeon where the real-life basis for Count Dracula was held.

The cell where history’s Dracula, the Romanian prince Vlad III (nicknamed Vlad the Impaler for his gruesome tendency to impale his foes), was recently discovered during a restoration project, the Turkey-based Hurriyet Daily News reports.

Researchers are reportedly restoring the ancient Tokat Castle, where the Ottomans imprisoned the infamously cruel figure, in the mid 1400s. The team there evidently discovered a tunnel leading to two dungeons — one of which is likely to have housed Bad Old Vlad.

TIME

Pictures of the Week: Sept. 19 – Sept. 26

From Syrian Kurds fleeing ISIS and the People’s Climate March to synchronized aquatics at the Asian Games and Derek Jeter’s perfect send off, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

 

TIME Syria

Fresh Air Strikes Hit ISIS Forces in Syria

A Turkish soldier watches as Kurdish Syrian refugees walk on the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, Sept. 24, 2014.
A Turkish soldier watches as Kurdish Syrian refugees walk on the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, Sept. 24, 2014. Murad Sezer—Reuters

Reports say ISIS positions near the besieged town of Kobani were pounded

Updated 8:10am ET

U.S. military aircraft carried out fresh raids against Sunni extremist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in northern Syria on Tuesday night.

U.S. Central Command said Tuesday night that U.S. military forces had continued to attack ISIS targets in Syria with two airstrikes southwest of Dayr Az Zawr. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed Wednesday that there had been more strikes overnight. “Definitely a second day and a third and maybe more,” Kerry said, in an interview with CNN. “We’re going to do what’s necessary to get the job done.”

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Wednesday that planes scored hits against ISIS militants near Kobani, which is also known as Ayn al-Arab. The Observatory’s Rami Abdulrahman said that local activists reported that the planes had approached from the Turkish side of the border. Turkish officials have dismissed that claim, according to the BBC, and denied that Turkish aircraft or the U.S. airbase at Incirlik were used.

Since Friday, close to 140,000 ethnic Kurds from Syria have flooded across the border into southern Turkey, as ISIS forces took surrounding villages and began to tighten their grip on Kobani. Kurdish militia fighters were still in control of the city as of Wednesday morning.

Earlier this week, Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters in Geneva that the agency was preparing for the entire 400,000 strong-population of communities in and around Kobani to cross the border.

TIME Turkey

Photos Show ‘Unprecedented’ Shift of Refugees Into Turkey

More than 138,000 Syrian Kurds have crossed the border

Among the top accusations against Turkey during Syria’s ongoing civil war has been that its government has not done enough to stem the flow of foreigners who slip over its border and into the ruthless jihadi groups operating between Syria and Iraq. But just as those thousands have crossed the boundary into Syria and Iraq to take up arms — some are thought to have joined extremist factions like the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) — Turkey’s 560-mile-long border has also proven a valuable exit for more than 1 million Syrian refugees.

Officials estimate more than 138,000 Syrian Kurds joined them in recent days, putting that exodus among the largest population shifts of the conflict since it began more than three years ago. The influx resulted from fierce battles between ISIS and Kurdish forces near the city of Ayn al-Arab, known to the Kurds as Kobani, following the militants’ seizure of Kurdish villages near the border during a recent advance. To put that figure into perspective, Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the United Nations refugee agency, says the “unprecedented” push into Turkey is nearly equal to the number of Syrian refugees who have sought asylum in Europe during the war.

Kobani is a short leap from the Turkish town of Suruc and had previously been mostly spared from the fighting that has devastated other parts of Syria. “This was really an enclave of relative safety, Kobani, and in fact there were 200,000 internally displaced people who had found some semblance of safety there over the last few years,” she tells TIME. “It was a place to flee to, and now all of a sudden it’s a place to flee from.” Fleming added that the agency is now preparing for a worst-case scenario in which all 400,000 residents of Kobani flee to Turkey to escape the threat.

Bulent Kilic, a Turkish photographer with Agence France-Presse based in Istanbul, arrived to the region late on Sept. 19 and began shooting the next morning. Kilic had seen media reports beginning to focus on this area and, having missed the opportunity in August to document the tragedy of the Yezidis on Mount Sinjar in Iraq, boarded a plane and headed southeast. The first wave began slowly on Thursday but soon ticked up, with the big surge coming over on Friday and Saturday.

Turkish officials had initially barred the Syrian Kurds from passage, but later reversed course and opened border crossings — “without any ethnic or sectarian discrimination,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at the time. And so they moved, on foot, with whatever they could carry. Those who crossed were mostly women, children and the elderly or injured, Kilic recalls, as most of the men and boys of fighting age stayed behind. “They left everything behind them — their toys, their homes, everything,” he says.

Kilic knows these types of scenes well. He covered the unrest during Turkey’s Gezi Park demonstrations last year, deadly clashes in Ukraine this past February and the Soma mine blast in May. He saw similar scenes of despair over the last few days, but his prior experiences doesn’t make them any easier to encounter. There was one moment he says moved him the most: a family at the border had three children, a few elders and two or three others. There were also a trio of goats that the adults were hoping to walk into Turkey. But the animals’ entry was denied.

“Their mother was trying to get them to come with her, but the children were crying because they couldn’t take the goats. At the same time, she was trying to control the goats. It was very dramatic,” he says.

The family left one or two people to take care of the animals near the border as the others, including the children, pressed on. Kilic says this story reminded him of his childhood because he would often care for his grandfather’s goats in his hometown.

“I understood them,” he admits. “They couldn’t leave these goats on the other side. They loved these goats and they didn’t want to leave because if they leave the goats, they’ll die or disappear or someone will take them. I couldn’t watch, I couldn’t continue, I started shooting something else.”

Making the pictures he wants to make in situations like this is difficult, Kilic says, but the best ones to him are those that show the humanity of his subjects and the reality of what he’s seen.

TIME Turkey

Turkey Grapples With an Unprecedented Flood of Refugees Fleeing ISIS

Turkey has done a better job than most at accommodating refugees, but the burden is proving too large to bear

Even by the standards of Syria’s nearly four-year-long civil war, it is a refugee exodus of extraordinary, if not unprecedented proportions. In less than 72 hours, an estimated 130,000 Syrian Kurds have poured across the border into neighboring Turkey, fleeing an onslaught by Islamist militants near the town of Kobani in northern Syria.

“We are preparing for the potential of the whole population fleeing into Turkey,” Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Geneva on Tuesday. “Anything could happen and that population of Kobani is 400,000.”

Also on Tuesday, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia defending Kobani, called for the U.S. and its Arab allies to expand their air strikes to target positions being held around the city by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Turkey, which already hosts upwards of 1.3 million Syrians — about 220,000 of them living in tent and container camps near the border — has done a much better job of accommodating the refugees than any of its neighbors. But the burden of providing for those displaced by the most recent fighting has proved too large to bear.

Since Friday, some of the refugees have found a place in newly assembled tent cities, Turkish officials said. Some have stayed with family members. Others have not been so lucky. In Suruc, a Turkish town about 8 miles north of the border gate at Kobani, and all along the road connecting the two, thousands of Syrians sought shelter in public squares, mosques, and in dry, barren fields.

At the crossing itself, a group of perhaps a hundred or more men, most of them from villages around Kobani, pleaded with Turkish soldiers to let them back into Syria. They seemed surprised that anyone should ask why they thought of returning. “To fight Islamic State,” one of them said, using the name ISIS recently gave itself.

At a nearby village, police and riot vehicles squared off against dozens of Kurdish activists from Turkey. The Kurds were protesting the Turkish authorities’ decision, temporary as it turned out, to close the border. They were greeted with a barrage of tear gas and several arrests.

The fighting around Kobani, combined with the massive refugee influx and reports of new atrocities perpetrated by ISIS against Syria’s Kurds, has put Turkey under further pressure, both international and domestic, to review its policy options. Until last weekend, Ankara had insisted it could not play a bigger role in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS for fear that doing so would put at risk the lives of 46 Turkish hostages captured by the jihadists in in June. But on Sept. 20, in an operation that likely included a prisoner swap, the hostages were set free.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has since suggested his government’s position towards ISIS might be ripe for a rethink. “What happens from now on is a separate issue,” he said Sunday. “We need to decide what kind of attitude to take.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has made it clear he now expects Turkey to make a tangible contribution to the alliance. The Turks “first needed to deal with their hostage situation,” he said Monday. “Now the proof will be in the pudding.”

Anyone who thinks Turkey is about to take part in armed operations against ISIS, however, should think again, says Henri Barkey, a professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and former State Department official.

In practice, there are three areas where Ankara might be in a position to help the U.S., Barkey says. It could allow the Americans to use the Incirlik Air Base, in Turkey’s south, to stage strikes against ISIS; it could provide more intelligence cooperation; and it could start dismantling the jihadist-support network in Turkey, stopping people, arms and supplies from entering Syria, and stopping smuggled fuel, arguably the biggest source of ISIS’s wealth, from coming out. Anything beyond that appears to be out of the question. “I don’t think Erdogan can move militarily against ISIS,” Barkey says. “That would open up a huge scenario for him that he is not ready for.”

As it positions itself diplomatically, Turkey is also beginning to face the domestic fallout from the drama unfolding on its doorstep.

Although few of them are able to provide hard evidence, many Kurds on both sides of the border firmly believe that Turkey backs ISIS — and that it is using the jihadists as a proxy against the YPG, an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Turks’ longtime enemy.

The longer the misery in Kobani lasts, Kurdish politicians now warn, the higher the chance that the political atmosphere inside Turkey will turn toxic, derailing a nascent peace process between the PKK and the government.

“They give us an olive branch in one hand, they support ISIS with the other, and they say nothing about the killing in Kobani,” said Mehmet Karayilan, a Kurdish politician from Gaziantep. “That’s putting the whole peace process at risk.”

TIME Syria

Thousands Are Fleeing From Syria to Turkey to Escape the Latest ISIS Onslaught

TURKEY-SYRIA-KURDS-REFUGEES
Syrian Kurds carry belongings as they cross the border between Syria and Turkey near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, on Sept. 20, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

Turkey is already home to nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees

At least 100,000 Syrian refugees flooded across the border into Turkey over the weekend as Sunni extremist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) launched an offensive against Kurdish communities in northern Syria.

Approximately 150,000 people have been displaced since ISIS began to encircle the border town of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, last week.

“Four or five days ago this area was quite safe,” Selin Unal, a spokesperson with the U.N.’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, told TIME on Monday. “And then after three days, 100,000 Syrians fled to Turkey.”

The militants have reportedly routed dozens of towns and executed at least 11 people in the villages outside of Kobani, according to activists.

“[ISIS] are continuing to advance,” Welat Avar, a doctor, told Reuters from Kobani. “Every place they pass through they kill, wound and kidnap people. Many people are missing and we believe they were kidnapped.”

International aid groups and Turkish officials warned that thousands of additional refugees are likely to try to cross the border in the coming days amid the militants’ offensive. Before the weekend’s onslaught, Turkey had already been home to close to 1.5 million refugees from the conflict-torn nation.

“Turkish government authorities and UNHCR are preparing for the possibility of hundreds of thousands more refugees arriving over the coming days, as the battle for the northern Syrian city of Kobani forces more people to flee,” read a statement released by the U.N. refugee agency over the weekend.

On Sunday, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group classified as a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington, called on fellow Kurds to take up arms to repel ISIS.

“Supporting this heroic resistance is not just a debt of honor of the Kurds but all Middle East people. Just giving support is not enough, the criterion must be taking part in the resistance,” the PKK said in a statement.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that hundreds of Kurdish fighters from inside Turkey crossed into Syria over the weekend to help beat back the ISIS offensive. Near the border, Turkish Kurds demonstrated in solidarity with the refugees, leading to clashes with authorities, who deployed tear gas and water cannon against the protesters.

While ISIS’s thrust in Iraq has been largely slowed by U.S. air strikes, American forces have yet to target the militant group’s myriad positions in neighboring Syria, thus allowing the group to continue to consume large swaths of territory across the country’s north and east.

During an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power hinted that the White House and its allies are ready to strike in Syria, but refrained from announcing how the Obama Administration was preparing to do so.

“The President has said we’re not going to allow [ISIS] to have a safe haven in Syria,” said Power. “But no decisions have been made in terms of how we’re going to proceed in that.”

Earlier this month, Turkey refrained from joining the U.S.-led coalition aiming to take the fight to the jihadist organization.

The uptick in violence along Turkey’s frontier coincides with the release of 49 Turkish diplomats over the weekend. All 49 had been in ISIS’s custody for three months since jihadist militants routed Iraqi security forces in Mosul in July.

Ankara has yet to provide firm details regarding the so-called rescue operation that succeeded in freeing the diplomats.

TIME Turkey

Dozens of Turkish Police Arrested for Alleged Anti-Government Plot: Reports

Turkey's new President Erdogan attends a swearing in ceremony at the parliament in Ankara
Turkey's new President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a swearing-in ceremony at the parliament in Ankara on Aug. 28, 2014. Umit Bektas—Reuters

Even more police officers have been accused of plotting against new President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

More than 30 Turkish police officers were detained on Monday, according to reports, in what appears to be the latest in a series of arrests related to the incoming President’s belief that members of the nation’s police force are conspiring against him.

Dozens of Turkish police had already been arrested this summer on charges of bugging new President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s phone lines in order to plot against him, Reuters reports. Erdogan, Turkey’s former longtime Prime Minister, won the country’s first direct presidential election on Aug. 10.

During his presidential campaign, Erdogan repeatedly accused U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of seeking to undermine the Turkish government via a network of loyalists in some of Turkey’s most powerful institutions, including the police.

Gulen’s network, called the Hizmet movement, was once credited with buoying Erdogan’s political might. But the pact between Erdogan and Gulen has since dramatically collapsed, and Erdogan has over the past several months waged a bitter and highly public campaign to root out Gulen supporters from the political establishment.

The arrest warrants issued for the 33 police officers in the latest sweep are for “seeking to overthrow the government,” Reuters reports. One of the officers is the former chief of a police financial unit.

[Reuters]

TIME foreign affairs

Turkey’s First Presidential Elections Were No Democracy

Turkish Youth Union (TGB) protested against Erdogan on
Turkish Youth Union (TGB) protested against Erdogan on August 11, 2014 in Ankara after Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the presidential election. Basin Foto Ajansi—LightRocket via Getty Images

Erdogan’s relentless campaigning was politics theatrics

My 10 year old and a few of his friends wanted to pose in front of a huge Erdogan poster in an upscale Ankara neighborhood 10 days before the presidential elections. One of his friends, who attends a private elementary school and has secular parents said, “Let’s do two thumbs up.” When I asked “But why?” they all replied, “He is the winner.” Arda’s not a fortune teller. There were no surprises in the election results. And when there are no surprises, is it really democracy?

One bad sign is declining turnout. Seventy-four percent of the eligible voters turned out to vote. While that is high for the U.S., it’s the lowest turnout in Turkey since 1977, when voting became compulsory. Even a few months ago in, turnout for municipal elections were 90%.

Even though it was the first time Turkish expats were allowed to vote where they reside, more than 80% chose not to vote.

You can explain this away if you are trying to put a good face on it. Ramadan had just ended. Farm workers were travelling around the country. The strategy of the main opposition’s joint candidate, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, backfired: The leaders of the major left and right wing opposition parties aimed to join forces against Erdogan, but their constituents did follow the plan. Ihsanoglu failed to generate a boost among conservatives, and in many cities nationalist voters opted for Erdogan. Ihsanoglu refrained from rallies during Ramadan while Erdogan campaigned relentlessly. His absence from the trail allowed Erdogan to even convince voters “Ihsanoglu is neutral on Gaza.” (It’s hard to imagine Ihsanoglu was truly indifferent about the Palestinian issue since he was the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Countries for a decade.) The left’s candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, out-performed many expectations, doubling his party’s vote, but many on the left feared that, as a Kurd, he might vote with their bloc.

But, we’re burying the lead. This was the first time Turkish voters had the opportunity to directly choose their president, and not just any President, but the man who has so consolidated his political power that this election may have taken him past the point of authoritarian return.

Sure, overall, it was a free election in a democratic country. Yet, if we scratch the surface, we see that it could hardly be referred as a “fair” election. The Organization of Security and Co-Operation in Europe produced a 13-paged report explaining why the Turkish presidential elections were not fair. In a sign of the consolidation of power in Turkey, the Supreme Board of Elections promptly discarded OSCE’s report as “groundless,” though it failed to refute the agency’s findings.

Signs of Erdogan’s tightening grip on his country’s levers of power are easy to see in the restricted media, ambiguous election rules, and lack of accountability on campaign finance regulations. Let’s start with the media, and not just the media, but the ability to be seen by Turks at all. Until the last 15 days, Demirtas was almost never seen on Turkish state-run television. I was living in a neighborhood the opposition won—and not a single photo of Demirtas or Ihsanoglu was present — it was all Erdogan. It is difficult to call it an equal playing field given the opposition’s lack of access to media.

On the media, OSCE reported that: “TRT1 devoted 51 per cent of coverage to Mr. Erdoğan, while covering Mr. İhsanoğlu and Mr. Demirtaş with 32 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively. In addition, 25 per cent of Mr. İhsanoğlu’s coverage was negative in tone, while Mr. Erdoğan’s coverage was almost all positive.”

This was explained as “normal” by the Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, who was perplexed that opposition candidates would demand more time on TV. Arinc asked, “how can the opposition candidates be equal with Erdogan?”

Erdogan also benefited from the ambiguity of election and campaign rules and regulations. The January 2012 Law on Presidential Elections (LPE) received no support from opposition parties and there was little public consultation. This law established the direct election of the president, but also blocked anyone to be a candidate unless 20 parliamentarians nominated him or her. If a judge or a banker wanted to run, they’d be required to resign prior to becoming a candidate for Presidency. But the law that says this is required for “fair” elections lets a Prime Minister or a Minister (read: Erdogan) stay in his job, with all the attendant powers over media that come with incumbency.

The law allowed candidates to fundraise from the public and set donation limits for individuals, but it left unregulated financial contributions from political parties and candidates’ personal funds, which mean you can’t find out who paid for political advertising, rallies, and other expenses.

Even before that law, the 1982 constitution gave the Supreme Board of Elections powers without judicial review, erasing any concept of “separation of powers,” and taking away the power to appeal election disputes.

Given all this power, many pundits wondered why Erdogan had campaigned so intensely. Yet, when your goal is not just the election, but a transformation of the political scene, you need to keep up the game. Erdogan’s relentless campaigning was to convince its constituencies for the legitimacy of an “executive presidency.” That might sound like the U.S. presidential system, but he’s not interested in the rest: federalism, a bicameral Congress or independent Supreme Court.

Known to follow the public opinion surveys carefully, Erdogan was well aware that Turkish public was not in favor of a “presidential system”; hence, he utilized this campaign process to lay the foundations of the idea. The net effect of his talking down the premiership, and talking up the presidency, was to convince voters the office is not so important, that Erdogan runs the show from whichever seat he occupies.

Who can stand in front of Erdogan’s dreams? In the last 12 years, press has been successfully tamed; judiciary, security forces and almost all bureaucracy skillfully stacked with loyalists; laws have been repeatedly revised to silence any opposition and corruption charges against himself and his allies. He eloquently established institutions and promptly declared them useless–the latest example being TIB, a telecommunications board. Legislation is frequently an expedited process and the public rarely has an opportunity to view what is at stake.

Erdogan has won another election, but it represents a dramatic expansion of his powers, not just another office. He has made it quite clear that he aims for an illiberal democracy, where even questioning why there could not be a live presidential debate between candidates would promptly put your name on the blacklist. In the corridors of Ankara, the game is the same: new Turkey means more of Erdogan.

If even a child can tell you who will win an election 10 days before the vote, do you have a democracy anymore?

Pinar Tremblay is a visiting scholar of political science at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. This piece originally appeared at The Weekly Wonk.

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