How ISIS Broadcasts Its Message To The World: Satellite Dishes Bought In Turkey

Over the last six or so months, it’s become abundantly clear that Turkey is home to several of the key transit and supply routes utilized by Islamic State. 

Ankara has long been suspected of turning a blind eye to the legions of foreign fighters that flow across the border into Syria and as Nafeez Ahmed noted last month, there’s voluminous evidence to support the contention that Turkey’s government is complicit in the terror group’s activities. This evidence was available long before the Russian MoD blew the whistle on Erdogan’s ties to the group’s illicit crude trade.

Here are some key excerpts from Nafeez’s piece "NATO is harbouring the Islamic State: Why France’s brave new war on ISIS is a sick joke," as originally published in Medium:

A senior Western official familiar with a large cache of intelligence obtained this summer from a major raid on an ISIS safehouse told the Guardian that “direct dealings between Turkish officials and ranking ISIS members was now ‘undeniable.’”


The same official confirmed that Turkey, a longstanding member of NATO, is not just supporting ISIS, but also other jihadist groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. “The distinctions they draw [with other opposition groups] are thin indeed,” said the official. “There is no doubt at all that they militarily cooperate with both.”


In a rare insight into this brazen state-sponsorship of ISIS, a year ago Newsweek reported the testimony of a former ISIS communications technician, who had travelled to Syria to fight the regime of Bashir al-Assad.


The former ISIS fighter told Newsweek that Turkey was allowing ISIS trucks from Raqqa to cross the “border, through Turkey and then back across the border to attack Syrian Kurds in the city of Serekaniye in northern Syria in February.” ISIS militants would freely travel “through Turkey in a convoy of trucks,” and stop “at safehouses along the way.”


The former ISIS communication technician also admitted that he would routinely “connect ISIS field captains and commanders from Syria with people in Turkey on innumerable occasions,” adding that “the people they talked to were Turkish officials… ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks.”

Back in May, The New York Times reported that in addition to foreign fighters and weapons, ammonium nitrate also flows across the porous border between Syria and Turkey. "The open transport of ammonium nitrate into Islamic State territory points to lingering questions about Turkey’s commitment to isolating its jihadist neighbors," The Times wrote on the way to documenting how the fertilizer (which is also used to build bombs) makes its way from Akcakale, which is home to 90,000 Turks to the Syrian town of Tel Abyad. 

As if all of the above wasn't enough, testimony from an ISIS fighter captured by the Kurdish YPG points to Turkey as a training ground for new ISIS recruits. "The training took place in Turkey because the Daesh command thought that it was safer there than in Syria. It wasn't possible to carry out training in Syria because of airstrikes," the soldier said, adding that "the media wrote that we were training in an FSA military camp, but in fact, all 60 of us were members of Daesh."

And then there is of course the infamous illegal crude racket in which ISIS is suspected to work closely with the Turks in trafficking stolen oil from captured fields in Syria and Iraq to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. 

Now, thanks to an investigative report by Spiegel, we learn that Islamic State also procures satellite dishes in Turkey and before you write that off as immaterial, or inconsequential compared to everything else ISIS gets across the Syrian border, consider that without these dishes, the group could not disemminate its propaganda. "No terror organization uses the Internet as successfully when it comes to marketing itself and recruiting supporters as Islamic State (IS) does," Spiegel begins, before asking the following: " is it able to do so given that the group operates in a region where telecommunications infrastructure has been largely destroyed?"

Here's more: 

If you need to get online in Syria or Iraq, the technology needed to do so can be purchased in the Hatay province -- a corner of Turkey located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Syrian border. 


Thousands of dishes have been installed in the region allowing users to access the Internet by satellite. There has been a huge surge in recent years in the satellite Internet business.


In Antakya, the demand for satellite technology on the other side of the border has fueled a boom in business. Two of the numerous dealers based here say independently of each other that they each have about 2,500 users in Syria and that they have monthly revenues of around $100,000. When asked who, specifically, they are selling their equipment and services to, they cautiously answer that they provide them only to commercial partners. They say they don't know who the end customers are.


Syrian activists claim that satellite dishes are located all over the place -- on the rooftops of IS media centers and on top of the private homes of members of the terrorist militia. Without them, IS would be cut off from the outside world.


A number of distribution firms are involved in the sales chain of the technologies required to obtain satellite Internet access. At the beginning of this chain are the major European satellite operators, led by France's Eutelsat, Great Britain's Avanti Communications and Luxembourg's SES. 


Distribution firms then buy facilities and satellite capacity from the big companies and resell it to corporate or private customers. 


Sales in Turkey are fairly slow too, because satellite connections are more expensive than classic DSL access.


According to the most recent data available from Turkey’s telecommunications authority, there were 11,000 registered satellite Internet users in Turkey during the first quarter of 2015, only 500 more than the previous year.


But during 2013 and 2014, alone, Neustadt-based Sat Internet Services exported more than 6,000 dishes to Turkey, customs agency documents obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE show. It is likely that most of those satellite dishes did not remain in Turkey, and there's a strong chance a good deal of them ended up in Syria. The Syrian market has a decisive advantage in that there is no alternative Internet access available, meaning prices can be set very high.

Spiegel then asks why, given how clear it seemingly is that Islamic State is operating dishes purchased in Turkey, the companies involved in providing the service can't simply cut the militants' access. After noting that both SES and Eutelsat denied having any knowledge or control of who their end customers ultimately are, Spiegel says that "satellite operators and their distribution partners generally can determine the location of the equipment they are supplying." Afterall, the German weekly continues, "when they install satellite dishes and configure Internet access, their customers are required to provide their GPS coordinates." The fact that many of the satellite dishes are located in Raqqa, al-Bab, Deir al-Zor and along the Euphrates River into Iraq and the IS-occupied city of Mosul leads to one rather obvious question: "Why don't the companies take action to stop it?" 

That is of course just a reformulation of the question that has been asked over and over again with regard to Islamic State's operations. For instance, the US knows where ISIS media centers are located but hasn't bombed them. Similarly, it took Russia exposing the Islamic State oil trade for the whole world to see before the US moved to target the group's oil convoys despite the fact that Washington was well aware of their locations prior to Moscow's intervention. The excuse was always fear of "collateral damage."

As it relates to the satellite dishes, Spiegel suggests the answer may lie in the profit motive. It's also suggested that perhaps the companies are passing the data along to authorities. We'll leave you with two final quotes and leave it to readers to decide for themselves.

Although most satellite operators do not publish their internal figures, industry analysts say it costs between €300 million and €400 million to build a satellite and to launch it into orbit. Does that explain why satellite operators might be willing to accept the fact that they provide the infrastructure needed by a terrorist group to communicate, disseminate their propaganda and possibly plan attacks? 


Or perhaps the companies have full knowledge of who is using their services and are sharing that information with intelligence services.