Shortly after capturing the Iraqi city of Mosul on Wednesday, the al-Qaeda splinter group then stormed the city’s Turkish consulate, kidnapping the consul and a number of staffers and security personnel.
The hostage taking is worsening already tense relations between Turkey and ISIS, many of whose foreign fighters first joined the group by slipping over the Turkey’s largely open southern border into Syria.
“If any harm is done to any of our citizens, it will not go unanswered,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davoglu warned ISIS on Thursday, cautioning that “no one should test Turkey.”
Both sides are holding to a ceasefire at the tomb of Suleiman Shah – the burial place of the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire – in a Turkish exclave on the Euphrates River, completely surrounded by the northern Syrian province of Aleppo and 10 kilometers south of Syria’s border with Turkey.
Though it has the tomb’s site surrounded, ISIS does not fire on and allows the Turkish army to pass through its territory to rotate its troops every few months.
“What is happening at the Suleiman Shah Tomb certainly requires coordination,”Adnan al-Hoseini, a Syrian journalist from the village of al-Oiba, five kilometers from the tomb of Suleiman Shah, tells Osama Abu Zeid.
Q: In March, Suleiman Shah was at the center of the leaked Turkish Ministry of Intelligence recordings, which supposedly forced Turkey to shut down YouTube.
Then, an official was quoted as looking for a reason to intervene in Syria, and proposed rallying in “self-defense” around the tomb. Did that influence relations between Turkey and ISIS in the area?
That was just for the benefit of the international community, that the tomb was in danger, to show the world that it also has religious sites [in Syria] that must be defended.
It’s similar to Iran’s intervention in Syria to protect the Sayeda Zeinab shrine in Damascus.
Q: Are ISIS and the Turkish government coordinating the presence at the Shah tomb?
There might not be coordination between the two in every meaning of the word, but what is happening at the Suleiman Shah Tomb certainly requires coordination.
Turkey’s Suleiman Shah Tomb is surrounded by Syria’s Aleppo province
Q: Do the Turkish forces there have any heavy weaponry?
Yes, they have a number of armored vehicles, fixed machine guns and light weaponry, as well as a number of anti-tank and air missiles.
Q: How do they exit and leave the tomb – by land or by air?
They rotate their forces over land, using a number of armed vehicles.