A cache of wiretaps originating in Turkey appear to show the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan aiding the passage of militant fighters tied to the ISIS terror group into and out of Syria, according to new reports that are raising questions about Turkey's commitment to its military alliance with Washington, D.C.
The wiretaps are said to show Erdogan's government working alongside ISIS fighters, despite its public rhetoric in support of the American campaign to decimate the Islamic terror group.
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Turkey's alliance with the United States has been stressed for some time, as Erdogan continues his anti-Israel rhetoric and a series of policies that have strained relations between the Trump administration and Ankara.
The wiretaps shine light on what experts have described as Turkey's private efforts to aid ISIS and create further havoc in war-torn Syria.
"A review of hundreds of secret wiretap records obtained from confidential sources in the Turkish capital of Ankara reveals how the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has enabled—and even facilitated—the movement of foreign and Turkish militants across the Turkish border into Syria to fight alongside jihadists in the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant," according to a report published by the Investigative Journal, a long form reporting portal.
"Recorded conversations between ISIL operatives reveal a different story from the one the Erdoğan government tells publicly," the report states. "They suggest the government has provided political cover, without which it would be impossible for ISIL to operate and evade prosecution. The wiretap records, obtained by authorization from the courts, were part of an ISIL legal investigation launched in 2014 by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office."
The wiretaps are said to have come from several ISIS-related criminal cases and show how far Turkey officials have gone to keep the lines of communications with these terrorist fighters open.
The records "indicate that an implicit agreement existed between ISIL and Turkish security officials that allowed traffickers to operate freely on both sides of the porous 511-mile [822-kilometer] Turkish–Syrian border without repercussions from the Erdoğan government," according to the report. "The agreement also permitted ISIL to run logistical lines across the border and to transport wounded fighters back into Turkey for medical treatment."
While U.S. officials have stopped short of confirming the veracity of these claims, it has been clear for months that unrest is brewing in the U.S.-Turkey relationship, which has deteriorated since the Trump administration launched operations to decimate ISIS and destroy its so-called caliphate.
A State Department official, speaking only on background, declined to comment on the content of the wiretaps.
"We don't comment on purported leaks," the official said. "We support Turkey in its fight against terrorism and will continue to work with the Turkish government to counter terrorism."
Some of the wiretaps shine a spotlight on how Turkey incubated the terror movement and helped ISIS fighters cross porous regional borders.
"Wiretap records map out how ISIL ran a jihadist highway through Turkey using hot lines and a communication center to vet, route and pick up militants who wanted to join the war in Syria," according to the report, which was authored by Abdullah Bozkurt, a reporter and president of the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), which monitors human rights violations in Turkey.
"ISIS leadership operated a phone line from the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad," according to the report, which named "Saudi-born Turkish national named İlhami Balı" as a key cog in the operation.
The recordings are further said to show how Turkish officials routed "incoming calls from foreign jihadists to ISIL's communication center for clearance." Balı, it claims, "directed militants to call the center to register and promised to provide pickup and transport across the border. Once the communication center cleared the ISIL aspirants, Balı had the green light to move them into Syria."
An email request for comment sent to the Turkish Embassy was not returned.
Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on regional policy, told the Washington Free Beacon that the United States must begin to realize that Turkey enjoys a cozy relationship with ISIS.
"It's time to face the facts: Turkey is to the Islamic State what Iran is to Hezbollah," Rubin said.
"Of course, Erdogan will say that the wiretaps are fraudulent or try to dismiss the whole thing by linking it to exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen or the Jews," Rubin said. "That may be enough for his followers back home who trust Erdogan unconditionally, but every intelligence service in the West and the Middle East as well as in Russia has developed the same information."
"The only real question now is whether anyone will make Erdogan pay the price," Rubin said. "Perhaps it's time for victims of ISIS attacks to file a lawsuit against Erdogan and the Republic of Turkey, just as victims of Iranian-supported terrorism have won more than one billion dollars from Tehran."