Transferring ISIS Jihadists from Ankara to Pankisi Valley
by Hale Gonultas
ISIS has intensified its restructuring, recruitment, and military training activities in the Pankisi Valley in northeastern Georgia. Historically, this valley has been known to host jihadist factions. Reports suggest that former jihadists from Turkey, seasoned with armed training and having experience in ISIS conflict zones, have been transported to Georgia through specific pathways.
According to recent discoveries, the "Journal of Ahlak ve Sünnet (Morality and Sunnah)" established its Georgian office in Kakheti, close to the Pankisi Valley. When questioned about the journal's activities in Georgia, the press representative for the Georgian Interior Ministry confirmed that no application or permit had been approved for its operation.
ISIS regroups in desert territories
After the fall of Baghuz, ISIS's territorial reign in Syria ended. However, ISIS has assessed desert regions as fallback options, designating them as crucial retreat sites. They shifted their base to the desert-hilly region of Meyadin-Resafa-Ithriya-Tedmur in Syria. Despite their decreased power, the landscape of these regions, apt for concealment, has facilitated minimal losses and bolstered their preparations for future offensives.
As ISIS fragmented, Turkey emerged as a sanctuary for its combatants due to its restructuring and training programs. A report from Artı Gerçek dated August 25 revealed that the organization has been realigning in Turkey, incorporating both Turkish and foreign fighters.
While regaining strength in Syria's deserts, ISIS has been exploring connections with countries like Georgia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, Chechnya, Mali, Uganda, and Sudan.
ISIS' journal and the key figure in recruitment
Turkish intelligence and security agencies actively monitor the restructuring of ISIS in Turkey, led by the Ahlak ve Sünnet (Morality and Sunnah) Journal. The Ministry of Interior announced that this journal serves as the organizational arm of ISIS in Turkey.
Eyup Gozlemecioglu, a key figure in ISIS recruitment and the father of Oguzhan Gozlemecioglu, a former leader of ISIS in Raqqa, has been arrested. Eyup was imprisoned for six months after being detained three times since 2011 on suspicion of aiding ISIS. He was later placed under house arrest due to medical reasons and is awaiting trial in Ankara.
ISIS's growing influence in Georgia
While Turkey provided refuge during ISIS's disintegration, Georgia emerged as a focal point for military training during the group's resurgence. The Ahlak ve Sünnet journal inaugurated an office in Georgia, further promoting its influence.
Young individuals newly recruited by ISIS, as well as experienced militants, are entering Georgia. The autonomous republic of Adjara is their primary entry point. Interestingly, many of these recruits cross into Georgia under the guise of subcontractors working for large construction companies in Turkey.
The first stop for ISIS fighters and sympathizers crossing the border is the autonomous republic of Adjara. So far, most crossings to Georgia have been made in Ankara, Konya, Kirsehir, Batman, and Diyarbakir (Amed).
Jihadists entering Georgia are subsequently transported to the Kakheti region. They undergo armed and military training in the Pankisi Valley, a renowned hub for jihadist groups. Chechen groups predominantly inhabit the valley.
The questionable presence in Georgia
Despite ongoing operations by Georgian security forces against jihadist elements, the intention of the Ahlak ve Sünnet journal to operate in Georgia has raised eyebrows.
When questioned about the journal's status in Georgia, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs reiterated that no approvals had been granted. This revelation raises concerns about the journal's base in Georgia and its operations in various Turkish cities, including Ankara.