The New York Times reports: Hacibayram, a ramshackle neighborhood in the heart of Ankara’s tourist district, has morphed into an ISIS recruitment hub over the past year. Locals say up to 100 residents have gone to fight for the group in Syria.
“It began when a stranger with a long, coarse beard started showing up in the neighborhood,” recalled Arif Akbas, the neighborhood’s elected headman of 30 years, who oversees local affairs. “The next thing we knew, all the drug addicts started going to the mosque.”
One of the first men to join ISIS from the neighborhood was Ozguzhan Gozlemcioglu, known to his ISIS counterparts as Muhammad Salef. In three years, he has risen to the status of a regional commander in Raqqa, and locals say he frequently travels in and out of Ankara, each time making sure to take back new recruits with him.
Mehmet Arabaci, a Hacibayram resident who assists with distributing government aid to the poor, said younger members of the local community found online pictures of Mr. Gozlemcioglu with weapons on the field and immediately took interest. Children have started to spend more time online since the municipality knocked down the only school in the area last year as part of an aggressive urban renewal project.
“There are now seven mosques in the vicinity, but not one school,” Mr. Arabaci said. “The lives of children here are so vacant that they find any excuse to be sucked into action.”
Playing in the rubble of a demolished building on a recent hot day here, two young boys staged a fight with toy guns.
When a young Syrian girl walked past them, they pounced on her, knocking her to the floor and pushing their toy rifles against her head. “I’m going to kill you, whore,” one of the boys shouted before launching into sound effects that imitated a machine gun.
The other boy quickly lost interest and walked away. “Toys are so boring,” he said. “I have real guns upstairs.”
The boy’s father, who owns a nearby market, said he fully supported ISIS’s vision for Islamic governance and hoped to send the boy and his other sons to Raqqa when they are older.
“The diluted form of Islam practiced in Turkey is an insult to the religion,” he said giving only his initials, T.C., to protect his identity. “In the Islamic State you lead a life of discipline as dictated by God, and then you are rewarded. Children there have parks and swimming pools. Here, my children play in the dirt.” [Continue reading…]