More evidence has emerged confirming that Turkish jihadist charity the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH) helped both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
According to the testimony of Merve Dündar, the wife of ISIS militant Mahmut Gazi Dündar, both of whom were listed as suspected ISIS suicide bombers and placed on a watchlist, the IHH channelled logistical supplies to people who live in ISIS-controlled cities and towns. “We were living in ISIS territory, and my husband wasn’t working in Syria. We were distributing [IHH-provided] supplies to the needy,” she told the court.
In a hearing on June 10, 2021 Merve explained that everyone had been carrying weapons in her neighborhood. “There were guns, an AK-47 rifle and hand grenades in the house. They [ISIS] were paying everybody a salary. ISIS was paying $50 to adults and $35 to children,” she told the court.
When she first arrived Turkey’s southeastern province of Adıyaman from Germany, Merve married Mahmut on August 30, 2013 at the age of 19. The two had previously met on Facebook when Merve was looking for information about an uncle who had been killed in Syria. Two days later the couple crossed into Syria. They were distributing supplies brought by the IHH, initially in al-Qaeda territory and later in ISIS-controlled areas.
This is not the first time the IHH had been incriminated in links to armed terrorist groups. According to intelligence documents submitted to the UN Security Council on Feb. 10, 2016, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the then-permanent representative to the UN, revealed Russian intelligence documents that even furnished the license plate numbers of trucks dispatched by the IHH loaded with arms and supplies bound for jihadist terror groups including the Nusra Front.
The network of this highly controversial charity was also accused of smuggling arms to al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria in January 2014 in a criminal investigation conducted by a prosecutor in Turkey’s eastern province of Van.
The investigation into a Turkish al-Qaeda cell found that İbrahim Şen, a top al-Qaeda operative who was detained in Pakistan and jailed at Guantanamo until 2005 before he was turned over to Turkey, his brother Abdurrahman Şen and others were sending arms, supplies and funds to al-Qaeda groups in Syria with the help of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), which is run by Erdoğan’s close confidant Hakan Fidan, another Islamist.
The investigation led to the IHH when wiretaps and surveillance revealed that the Kayseri and Kilis branches of the IHH were sending funds and medical and household supplies to jihadists in Syria. Investigators discovered that Şen enlisted the help of the IHH when he wanted to conceal illegal shipments to jihadists. The prosecutor’s conclusion was that the NGO took part in the scheme knowing full well what it was involved in. It was not random or individual participation but rather a deliberate scheme with the knowledge of IHH management.
Fearing that the expansion of the probe could lead to senior figures in the IHH and expose the links to his government, then-prime minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan quickly moved to quash it. The government dismissed and later arrested all police chiefs and prosecutors who uncovered the IHH’s clandestine dealings with jihadist groups.
In her testimony Merve explained that she came back to Turkey for medical treatment, sometimes under fake IDs, and later returned to Syria where she had lived in various areas. Then she moved to Iraq and stayed in a camp there for 10 months. She paid the $12,000 her mother sent from Germany to smugglers who took her to Turkish army-controlled areas in Jarablus, a northwestern Syrian city.
She stayed in Jarablus for 48 days and was questioned by MIT intelligence officers. In January 2020 she was arrested in Turkey but released a month later. German police had also been looking for her, and German authorities asked Turkey to question her as part of an ongoing investigation. She said a month after her release, police summoned her in connection to the German warrant but let her go.
Merve is not the only person from Germany who was involved with ISIS. Walentina Slobodjanjuk, who was called a terrorist with a Mona Lisa smile, is another woman whom Merve met and knew. In fact, when she first arrived in Syria from Germany, where she holds citizenship, Slobodjanjuk got married to Mahmut’s brother Ömer Deniz Dündar (aka Ammar), a Turkish national and ISIS militant.
Slobodjanjuk is originally from Kazakhstan and was born there in May 1995. She was one of the suspects in a leading ISIL case in Turkey. The indictment charged her with membership in a terrorist group and fraud in official documents. She remains at large as of the present day, and Merve said she does not know her whereabouts.
Slobodjanjuk had been flagged as a militant by German authorities but managed to travel freely within Turkey and on the Turkish-Syrian border, using a fake Turkish ID. Until a twin bombing that took place in Ankara on October 10, 2015 — the deadliest terrorist attack ever to take place in Turkey, which killed 107 people including two suicide bombers — she remained in the clear.
The attack targeted NGOs and supporters of left-wing and pro-Kurdish parties holding a peace rally outside the capital’s main train station, just weeks ahead of the November 1, 2015 snap elections that gave Turkey’s embattled President Erdoğan and his party a chance to regain the majority in parliament. İlhami Balı, the mastermind of the attack, turned out to have connections to Turkish intelligence agency MIT.
Following the terrorist attack, Slobodjanjuk was the subject of a detention warrant issued by the Ankara 3rd Criminal Court of Peace on February 23, 2016 in ruling No.2016/1143.
According to the Turkish government account based on DNA tests, Slobodjanjuk’s husband, 24-year old Ömer, was one of the twin suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the Turkish capital near government buildings on October 10. In two separate documents found among digital archives that were seized in a police raid on an ISIL safe house in Turkey, Ömer was named along with four others as potential suicide bombers who were ready to take action upon orders from Syria’s ISIL emir. Ömer was carrying a fake ID in the name of Emre Kaya, a Turkish real estate broker, to evade detection. Kaya denied knowing Dündar during a police interview.
When investigators traced GSM signals on a mobile phone with the number 532-675-0477 that was used by Slobodjanjuk while she was in Turkey, they found that its signals came from a cell tower located in Gaziantep between the dates of October 3 and October 15, 2015, around the time the Ankara attack took place. She reportedly met Ömer in Syria in 2014 and got married there. She was believed to have come back to Turkey in 2014 and spent some time with his family in Adıyaman province.
According to the indictment, Slobodjanjuk conspired with two key ISIS suspects, Halil İbrahim Durgun — one of the organizers of Ankara train station attack who allegedly blew himself up during a police operation in Gaziantep on November 15, 2015 to avoid getting caught — and Yunus Durmaz — an Afghan trained hard-core ISIS militant who led one of the most secretive ISIS cells in Turkey and was among the planners of the Ankara attack.
When police raided a house belonging to Durmaz in Şahinbey’s Akkent neighborhood in Gaziantep province, a hotbed of radical militants near the Syrian border, a Turkish national ID card in the name of Yıldız Bozkurt was found. The photo on the ID was of Slobodjanjuk, although details on the identity card showed her as a Turkish national residing in Gaziantep. It was a high-quality, fraudulent ID that allowed Slobodjanjuk to move around easily without detection.
Police interviewed Yıldız Bozkurt, whose identity was assumed by Slobodjanjuk, to find out how her ID ended up in apartment No. 19 in Akkent with a jihadist woman’s photo. Bozkurt said she never loaned her ID to anybody and did not know Slobodjanjuk. She also said some of the details on the ID did not match hers such as date of birth and her father’s name.
An intercepted ISIS communiqué shows that the Syrian militant group that coordinates the travel of foreign fighters to and from Syria attached special importance to Slobodjanjuk and her Turkish husband. They were even offered VIP-like special travel arrangements to move back and forth across the Turkish-Syrian border. Ömer’s involvement in the deadliest terror attack in Turkey proved this asset’s value for the terrorist network.
The 2015 attack was not prevented despite all indications that Ömer would become a dangerous terrorist. He was known to Turkish authorities who were aware of his connections to radical groups but did not take any action until his body turned up in pieces in the suicide attack. His grieving father, Mehmet Dündar, said he filed complaints with the police and prosecutor’s office about his son, informed them of his travels to Syria and named names in the militant network his son had interacted with in both Turkey and Syria. The first complaint by Mehmet Dündar and his wife Asiye Dündar was made to the Fatih police department on September 9, 2013.
Ömer first went to Syria in 2013 to join jihadists, prompting his father to go all the way to rebel camps in Aleppo to try to bring him back home. The father managed to locate the camps run by jihadists and was told that his son was brought in with a group of 15. But the group’s commander, a Turkish national from Batman province who said he served 15 years’ jail time in İstanbul, refused to arrange a meeting between the father and his son. He told the father his son would be martyred in Syria. The frustrated father came back empty handed but reported what happened to the police with the names of all the jihadists. Surprisingly, Ömer showed up in Adıyaman in 2014 and stayed with his father for eight months before going back to Syria.
Interestingly enough, Mehmet Dündar said he had received a Facebook message from Gazi Dündar in the wake of the October 10 suicide attack in Ankara, saying his son told him they were well. Police believe Gazi Dündar, Slobodjanjuk and another man named Muhammet Zana Alkan all crossed into Turkey to stage the suicide bombing attack.
When Ömer returned to Turkey in 2014, Mehmet Dündar reported his son’s activities to the police, hoping that Turkish authorities would prevent him from going back to Syria. But the police simply let him go after brief questioning. The family’s appeal with the offices of Prime Ministry and the Presidency did not go anywhere, either. Fatma Dündar, the sister of twin brothers Ömer Deniz and Mahmut Gazi, contacted the Prime Ministry’s hotline, BİMER, on September 18, 2013, stating that her brothers had been missing for two weeks. She said when the family filed a missing persons report with the police, they learned that some 100 children were reported to be missing in connection with jihadist groups operating in Adıyaman. When she received no response, Fatma also filed a similar complaint with the Office of the Presidency on September 24, 2013.
It is mind-boggling that authorities did not do anything substantial to crack this case despite the fact that Dündar’s family ordeal also attracted the national media. Both the father and the mother appeared on CNN Türk in 2013, pleading with the public to locate their sons and asking authorities to do something about their children and others who had gone missing in jihadist adventures. After the network aired the segment and the Radikal daily published a story on it, a specially authorized public prosecutor in Malatya launched an al-Qaeda investigation.
The probe uncovered a deadly jihadist network known as Dokumacılar led by Mustafa Dokumacı, who had been recruiting militants for radical groups in Syria. Ömer Deniz was also a suspect in the investigation. Yet, in a sudden move in 2014, Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) decided to abolish the specially authorized prosecutors and courts that had experience and knowledge in prosecuting terrorism cases. When another Islamist, Abdullah Gül, the then-president of Turkey, signed the bill into law on March 2014, the case pursued by the special prosecutor in Malatya was transferred to Adıyaman.
The public prosecutor in conservative Adıyaman province completed the investigation in the fall of 2014 but decided to drop the charges against Ömer and 18 other suspects despite the fact that the body of evidence including wiretap communications revealed their involvement in jihadist business. The prosecutor in Adıyaman eventually filed a criminal case on December 26, 2014 against three suspects — Mustafa Dokumacı, Mehmet İşbar and Salih Küçüktaş — after all three had already crossed into Syria while authorities were listening to communications that revealed their travel plans. In other words, Turkish authorities knew the three would flee, but they released them after questioning. It was simply impossible for the prosecutor to drop this serious case without approval from the government, which effectively controls the Turkish judiciary.
If Ömer had been prosecuted and convicted, 107 people would still be alive today.
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