Foreign fighters are leaving the Islamic State in droves, with many surrendering to or being caught by Turkish border police over the last few weeks. Large numbers of foreign fighters and sympathisers are abandoning Islamic State and trying to enter Turkey, with at least two British nationals and a US citizen joining an exodus that is depleting the ranks of the terror group.
Two Britons and one US citizen are among dozens who have surrendered or been caught at Turkish border. Stefan Aristidou, from Enfield in north London, his British wife and Kary Paul Kleman, from Florida, last week surrendered to Turkish border police after more than two years in areas controlled by Isis, sources have confirmed to the Guardian. Dozens more foreigners have fled in recent weeks, most caught as they tried to cross the frontier, as Isis’s capacity to hold ground in Syria and Iraq collapses. Some – it is not known how many – are thought to have evaded capture and made it across the border into Turkey.
Aristidou, who is believed to be in his mid-20s, surrendered at the Kilis crossing in southern Turkey along with his wife – said to be a British woman of Bangladeshi heritage – and Kleman, 46. The American had arrived at the border with a Syrian wife and two Egyptian women, whose spouses had been killed in Syria or Iraq, Turkish officials said. It is not known how many ISIS sympathisers have escaped and made it across the border into Turkey.Officials in Turkey and Europe say an increasing number of ISIS supporter who have joined the group since 2013 have contacted their embassies looking to return.
The group has been pushed out of the half of Mosul that lies east of the Tigris River, but Iraqi soldiers and their allies are now bogged down in tough fighting in the narrow streets of the Old City. Islamic State has used suicide bombers, snipers and armed drones to defend the territory under their control. The Islamic State group now controls less than seven percent of Iraq, down from the 40 percent it held almost three years ago. The group has also repeatedly targeted civilians or used them as human shields during the fighting, according to Iraqi and American security officials. While it has lost ground in Mosul, ISIS still controls the towns of Qaim, Hawija and Tal Afar in Iraq as well as Raqqa, their de-facto capital in Syria. But control over territory and people isn’t the only thing that makes ISIS a formidable terrorist organization. The group has recently been focusing heavily on external attacks, some of which are mounted without any direct orders from ISIS leaders.
ISIS has lost 57% of its territory and 73% of the people once under its control, according to Rand. At its peak in 2014, ISIS controlled nearly 30,000 square miles of territory containing a population of about 11 million. The United States estimates that up to 30,000 foreign fighters have likely crossed into Syria to fight with ISIS, and as many as 25,000 have been killed. While many foreigners are ready to leave ISIS, there are others more committed than ever; Western intelligence officials believe that at least 250 ISIS fighters over the last two years have been smuggled over the Turkish border and are now in Europe.