LONDON - Turkey tried to sneak jihadists among stranded Algerian passengers at Istanbul Airport who are still waiting to be repatriated to Algeria, according to media reports.
Over 1,000 Algerians have been stranded in Istanbul Airport since March 19 after the Algerian government shut down its airspace as part of several measures taken in its fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
A statement released by Algeria’s foreign ministry said that Algiers was coordinating with Ankara the return of its nationals stranded in Istanbul, but stressed that Algerian authorities must first identify the passengers, some of whom sought to go to the North African country with no identification or plane ticket.
"Their number continues to grow and this has raised doubts," said Algeria's foreign ministry spokesman.
But informed sources believe that the Turkish secret services have sought to sneak jihadists among Algerian passengers in a bid to get them to Libya, reported news website Algerie Patriotique. algeriepatriotique.com.
Turkey has been providing military support to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which has been trying to fend off an offensive by Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar's forces to the east.
Last year the two sides signed a military cooperation deal and Turkey has since sent troops and mercenaries from Syria to Libya.
Algeria is trying to strike a political settlement to the Libyan conflict which is threatening the region’s stability.
Algiers hosted in January a meeting of Libya’s neighbours which rejected any foreign interference in the war-torn country, in a reference to Turkey’s sending of troops to Libya.
Experts say that the Algerian government’s fears are justified since hundreds of Algerian jihadists who have been fighting in Syria could use the coronavirus crisis to return to Algeria as ordinary citizens.
“A question of national security because, due to the unstable situation in Libya in and the Sahel, no error is tolerable in the context of the anarchy created by the coronavirus pandemic,” Abdelkader Soufi, professor at the University of Blida and expert in strategic studies and defense policies, told Sputnik.
The same concerns were raised in Tunisia where political party leaders and civil society accused the Islamist party Ennahdha of agreeing with Turkey to bring in Tunisian jihadists from Syria by taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis.
“These extremists came from Syria with their families. Some are not even Tunisians but Syrians, their ultimate goal being to reach Libya via Tunisia," said Mondher Guefrach, head of the “Front du Salut de la Tunisie”.
Stranded Algerian passengers were taken to university housing estates in Istanbul where they carried out their medical quarantine following an agreement between the two countries.
Algerian authorities said that the passengers would be repatriated once their identities had been checked.