The three high-profile militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), suspected to have been deployed for a major attack on the French Embassy in Ankara, had been caught at the border by the Turkish military and briefly detained but were let go pending trial by the court and are currently at large.
The capture of the ISIS terrorists, identified as Turkish nationals Melih Engin (30), Ulaş Çelebi (36) and Abdulkerim Eski (32), was carried out on the Turkish-Syrian border by military guards from the Ermiş border garrison on July 11, 2016. They were spotted on the Turkish side of the border in Gaziantep province by soldiers who were patrolling the road adjacent to the border at 18:15 hours. When they were detained, Çelebi was suffering from an injury to the leg sustained in an earlier incident, possibly a clash in Syria.
A confidential military memo obtained by Nordic Monitor indicates that the military suspected the Turkish nationals were the three who were being sought for a suspected attack on the French Embassy in Ankara. The intelligence concerning the attack and plan by ISIL terrorists who would come from Syria for a mission had already been disseminated on a joint intelligence sharing platform (Türkiye İstihbarat Paylaşım Ağı Sistemi, or TİPAS) in the summer of 2016. The military memo, signed by 1st Lt. Tarık Çaydere, noted that an assessment was made suggesting that the captured militants were the ones who were mentioned in the TİPAS intelligence bulletin.
Intelligence memo on an ISIS attack on the French Embassy and other French interests:07 TEMMUZ 2016 SKKHM_A4
In fact, a daily intelligence summary submitted to the General Staff on July 7, 2016 indicated very specific intel was collected that ISIS planned to attack the French Embassy and other French interests in Turkey during Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, 2016. The document, also obtained by Nordic Monitor, shows that the intelligence was conveyed by NATO as well as Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
ISIS wanted to take revenge and send a message to Paris for France’s involvement in the US-led anti-ISIS campaign in Syria. The intelligence, deemed credible by French authorities, led the French Embassy in Turkey to cancel its Bastille Day celebrations and receptions as a precautionary measure. France also decided to close its embassy in Ankara and consulates in Istanbul and Izmir for security reasons. In a written statement on July 13, French Consul-General in Istanbul Muriel Domenachde explained that there was credible and corroborating information about the threat against July 14 celebrations and that they had decided to cancel the events in cooperation with the Turkish authorities.
The border guards handed the three over to the gendarmerie in the town of Doğanpınar located in the Oğuzeli district. They were later indicted on terrorism charges, but the Turkish court ruled to release all three pending trial. The case was finally wrapped up on October 16, 2019 by the Gaziantep 2nd High Criminal Court, which convicted them of membership in a terrorist organization and sentenced them to six years, three months in prison. However, none of the suspects showed up for the final hearing and are all now fugitives.
The Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has long been accused of going easy on ISIS and al-Qaeda groups in Turkey, with the criminal justice system failing to crack down on the militant networks. Most ISIS suspects are quickly released after brief detentions, and the courts are hesitant to hand down harsh sentences to ISIS and al-Qaeda terrorists.
The intelligence also appears to justify claims made by defendants in coup trials during which numerous officers said they thought they were responding to an imminent terrorist attack when they were mobilized to secure General Staff headquarters, which is not that far from the French Embassy and other military buildings in Ankara, on July 15, 2016.
The confidential military memo on the capture of the ISIS terrorists:Three_ISIS_terrorists