A bizarre and unprecedented story is developing along the Turkish-Greek border after a day ago Turkish authorities expelled an alleged American member of the Islamic State, amid a broader initiative to deport hundreds of foreign terrorists who traveled to Syria from the West back to Europe and the US.
For a second day the American terror suspect is stranded in no-man's land between the Turkish and Greek borders near the town Kastanies in the northeast corner of Greece. As counterterrorism analyst Jean-Charles Brisard put it—
“An Isis jihadist expelled by Turkey to Greece is literally stuck in the buffer zone separating the two countries after Greece’s refusal to allow entry into the territory.”
Stunning video posted the the internet confirms that the man, identified in Turkish and Greek media as 39-year old Muhammed Darwis B. and believed to be a US citizen of Jordanian descent, is walking around inside the few hundred meter long buffer zone between the border crossings, with each side's gates shutting him in.
It's unclear why Turkey would think Greek authorities would let him in, but it's also likely a political stunt by Turkish authorities to underscore its latest threats of what will happen if Europe is unwilling to repatriate the hundreds of European ISIS fighters currently in Turkish custody.
In one video taken by a Turkish broadcaster, the man appears to shout for help at the camera while standing in the strip of land exactly between the crossings.
The Guardian has further details which suggest he could be at the center of a developing diplomatic dispute between Ankara and Washington over potential repatriation to the US:
A Turkish official told AFP that he had refused to be returned to the US and instead asked to be sent to Greece. Athens said he was refused entry when he tried to cross the no man’s land between the two countries to the Greek town of Kastanies. He is reported to have spent the night outside and witnesses said he has been trying to shout to reporters on the Turkish side of the border.
During a Tuesday speech, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he and other foreign ISIS members were “not our problem” while also threatening Europe with more such ISIS detainee releases to come: “You should revise your stance towards Turkey, which at the moment holds so many Isis members in prison and at the same time controls those in Syria,” Erdogan told reporters in Ankara on Tuesday.
“These gates will open and these Isis members who have started to be sent to you will continue to be sent. Then you can take care of your own problem," Erdogan added threateningly. Turkish officials last week revealed they have over 1,200 foreign ISIS members in custody.
Erdogan had reportedly been specifically asked about the American during the Tuesday press briefing, at which point he vowed "to continue sending them back".
#Erdogan says his gov't has more plans to send #ISIS terrorists back to Europe after he was asked to comment on American ISIS suspect who got pushed by Turkey to Greece on land border, but stuck in no-mans land there. He vows to continue sending them back. pic.twitter.com/S9oWOPajRQ— Abdullah Bozkurt (@abdbozkurt) November 12, 2019
Interestingly, the State Department said it was aware of the developing situation, but did not definitively affirm whether the man is in fact an American citizen or what will be done: “We are aware of reports of the detainment of a US citizen by Turkish authorities,” a spokeswoman said Monday. “Due to privacy considerations we have no further comment.”
Given Erdogan is scheduled to meet Trump at the White House on Wednesday, it could be that the Turkish president is using the "ISIS unleashed on Europe" threat as a major bargaining chip and as leverage in talks with Washington.
An American ISIS suspect literally stuck between borders certainly carries huge symbolism, illustrating the coming renewed crisis on Europe's borders.