David Cameron’s vow that Britain and its allies would not allow Islamic State to form caliphate on Europe’s doorstep had a hollow ring for the besieged people of Kobani yesterday.
Huge plumes of smoke billowed over the pivotal border town as jihadi fanatics – some claiming to be British – launched a terrifying onslaught. Kobani, which lies just inside Syria on the border with Nato member Turkey, has been described as the town the world cannot afford to lose to the terrorists.
If they succeed in taking it, IS will control an unbroken 125-mile stretch of frontier with our Turkish allies.
Kobani is barely more than 200 yards from Turkey, which wants to join the EU, and for the past two weeks it has been possible to stand on a Turkish hillside and watch as the jihadis under their black flag tighten their stranglehold on the Syrian town. A massacre beckons, and nobody seems capable of stopping it.
Inside Kobani, populated by Syrian Kurds, fires rage as artillery shells thump into densely-packed neighbourhoods.
At least 25 mortar rounds rained down yesterday on a hopelessly outnumbered army of resistance, a Dad’s Army style force that has come to be symbolised by a band of gun-toting grandmothers.
A picture of the women, brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles, was retweeted around the world yesterday by those anxious to raise awareness of the plight of the people of Kobani.
Outgunned, they respond only with occasional rocket-propelled grenades and bursts of rifle fire. They have also converted tractors and other farm equipment into armoured vehicles fitted with aging Soviet-era guns.
Stopping towns like this falling was the reason the U.S. launched a campaign of airstrikes – backed by the RAF in Iraq.
But they have failed to stem IS’s brutal advance and a bloodbath seems horribly likely.
Seven men and three women from Kobani have already been beheaded by the jihadis, with the women’s heads placed on macabre display in Jarabulus, a nearby IS stronghold. A gruesome photograph uploaded to Twitter purported to show a grinning IS fighter clutching the decapitated head of a girl. And there are sickening reports of women and girls being raped.
Over the weekend, a British jihadi taunted the people of Kobani by posting another photo showing his terror gang was within sight of their homes.
The siege has forced some 160,000 people to flee across the frontier. Some sit weeping on hilltops on the Turkey side of the border, watching helplessly while their homes go up in smoke.
Fleeing families have told of unspeakable horrors. One young father, Mostafa Kader, who fled ten days ago, revealed how the body of his sister in law and eight-year-old niece were found in pools of blood.
‘They had been raped and their hearts were cut out,’ he said. ‘I buried them with my own hands.’
Islamic State is using captured US-made tanks and other military hardware which had been left in the hands of the Iraqi army, whole regiments of which have simply fled from IS.
The RAF cannot intervene because it has no mandate to bomb in Syria, despite British Tornados flying right overhead to conduct bombing raids in neighbouring Iraq. American warplanes have been bombing around Kobani, and yesterday at least 16 IS militants were declared dead from airstrikes and ground attacks. But it is not enough.
The Turks have promised to ‘do whatever we can’ – a stray mortar even landed a mile inside Turkey yesterday, wounding five people in a house near the town of Suruc. Convoys of lorries carrying Turkish tanks have been driven south to the border. However there was no sign of them arriving yesterday.
On social media, tech-savvy IS has been crowing that no one can stop it fulfilling its dream of carving out a medieval caliphate, in which anyone not adhering to its arbitrary strictures is beheaded or crucified, or has limbs chopped off.
Yesterday it was reported that some British jihadists have found it too much. Up to 100 have defected and are stranded in Turkey because they fear imprisonment if they return to the UK. Yet an estimated dozen or so would-be holy warriors from Britain are still joining the warped cause every month.
Mr Cameron warned last month of the ‘poisonous’ threat of jihadis returning to the UK, and said the world had to deal with IS.
He said: ‘If it succeeds, we would be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a Nato member.’
But the ease with which British and other fanatics slip between Turkey and Syria, under the noses of border guards, makes a mockery of claims Turkey is cracking down on its label as a ‘gateway to jihad’.
Mohtar Topdemir, a hotel owner in the frontier town of Akcakale, said: ‘We never see the recruits – they cross at night and are smuggled illegally under a fence – but we see their bags, which the smugglers transport separately. Every two or three days, about 50 or 60 Western rucksacks come through the official border crossing, and we can see their luggage tags – British Airways, Air France, Turkish Airlines.
‘The smugglers arrange for their rucksacks to follow them. A Turkish porter can carry them through the Turkish border gate and leave them in “no-mans-land” and then a Syrian porter can come from the other side and pick them up. It means the jihadists are reunited with all their belongings.’
There are dozens of border towns strung along the 560-mile frontier where potential recruits can simply melt away until it is time to cross into Syria.
Mohammed Aldeen, 21, a Syrian who had just crossed illegally from Syria into Turkey, said: ‘If anything, it was easier than previous times.
‘It is very well arranged now, in both directions. I got into a van with no windows with about 20 people, men and women.
‘We drove to a place on the border and then waited for a few hours. The smugglers are constantly on their phones, checking with their people on both sides.
‘Then they give the signal that it is clear, and the doors open and we all run. This time, there was a fence and a one-metre tunnel dug under it, which we all crawled through.
‘No one asks any questions.’
In the next few days, if Kobani falls, Downing Street and the White House will face plenty of questions about whether their strategy to deal with Islamic State is working.
For the people of Kobani, it will be too late.
By Sam Greenhill
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.