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Would-be jihadi fighters are increasingly booking tickets on cruise ships to join extremists in battle zones in Syria and Iraq, hoping to bypass stepped-up efforts to thwart them in neighboring Turkey, Interpol officials have told The Associated Press.
Turkey, with its long and often porous border with Syria, has been a major thoroughfare for many of the thousands of foreign fighters seeking to join extremists like ISIS, which has captured territory across Iraq and Syria.
Turkish authorities say they have set up teams to nab suspected foreign fighters in airports and bus stations, and have deported hundreds in recent months. Pierre St. Hilaire, director of counterterrorism at Interpol, suggested that the Turkish crackdown has shown results in recent months — and so some would-be jihadis are making alternative travel plans.
"Because they know the airports are monitored more closely now, there's a use of cruise ships to travel to those areas," he told the AP on Thursday. "There is evidence that the individuals, especially in Europe, are traveling mostly to Izmit and other places to engage in this type of activity," he said, referring to a Turkish coastal town.
"Originally, our concern about people on cruise ships — dangerous people on cruise ships — really focused on the classic sort of rapist, burglar, or violent criminal," outgoing Interpol chief Ronald Noble said. "But as we've gathered data, we've realized that there are more and more reports that people are using cruise ships in order to get to launch pads, if you will — sort of closer to the conflict zones — of Syria and Iraq."
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