Waiting for the tram in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep, Abu Omar is on his way to the mall. No groceries today, his shopping list includes a Turkish-made tablet computer and a small GPS navigation device loaded with digital maps of the Middle East.
“It’s nothing special,” says Abu Omar, an Iraqi national, as he puts the goods in his rucksack. “But this stuff might come in handy after I make it to Syria.”
Abu Omar, a handsome young man with long black hair, is not the only one making the trek to Syria. Hundreds of Iraqi prisoners, mostly suspected or convicted jihadists, were freed in July after al Qaeda-linked militants staged a deadly jailbreak at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. At the time, Iraqi and Western authorities feared that some of those men would travel to Syria, helping to fuel the rise of extremist groups there. Those fears have now become a reality.