The New York Times and Associated Press are reporting on Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other Islamist elements among the nearly 5000 Syrian fighters sent to fight in Libya by Turkey. We reported this story just days ago as it was picked up by Libyan media, citing both LNA and a Syrian human rights monitoring group as sources. The GNA denied such claims, while Turkey has yet to confirm or deny reports that it is using Syrian mercenaries at all. Erdogan, so far, has been vague on this issue, referring to a “different team” that is not “from within our soldiers” as a “combat force”.
Turkey, through its military intelligence, has trained and funded Syrian fighters, bringing together various opposition groups to Assad under the Syrian National Army. It is from these that Turkey has enticed fighters to ship out to Libya to fight on behalf of the GNA. The fighters reportedly receive $2000 a month and the promise of Turkish citizenship, while their families are financially compensated if they die in Libya. Most are said to be ideologically apathetic and are signing on for the economic gains. We previously reported on this site that Turkish intelligence has taken motivating the Syrians by promising they will face Russians when in Libya.
Reports have ranged from 2000 to as many as 5000 Syrians currently in Libya, with dozens of them reported to be former Al-Qaeda and ISIS fighters. Turkey has a long history of aiding Islamist elements, including by relaxing border restrictions to allow their movement into Syria.
Some GNA commanders were concerned that the presence of such extremists would “tarnish” the GNA’s image, and causing it to lose support in the west and among Libyans.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has determined recently at least 130 such Islamist elements among the thousands of Syrians in Libya.