Turkey is in the news again for its hosting Hamas terrorists and granting them Turkish passports. The covenant of Hamas openly aims for annihilation of Israel.
In a written statement, the US State Department “strongly objected” to Turkey’s hosting two Hamas leaders in Istanbul on August 22. Hamas leaders received red-carpet treatment from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The State Department’s written statement, issued on August 25, said:
Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and EU and both officials hosted by President Erdogan are Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The U.S. Rewards for Justice Program is seeking information about one of the individuals for his involvement in multiple terrorist attacks, hijackings, and kidnappings.
President Erdogan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza. We continue to raise our concerns about the Turkish government’s relationship with Hamas at the highest levels. This is the second time President Erdogan has welcomed Hamas leadership to Turkey this year with the first meeting occurring February 1.
Turkey has also given passports to a dozen Hamas members in Istanbul, Israel’s charge d’affaires in Ankara, Roey Gilad, said on August 26, describing the move as “a very unfriendly step” which his government would raise with Turkish officials. Israel had already told Turkey last year that Hamas was carrying out “terror-related activity” in Istanbul, but Turkey had not taken action, Gilad added, according to news outlets.
This is not the first time the Turkish government is condemned or challenged for its enabling jihadist terrorists. Turkey has for several years been in the international media for its support for or involvement with Islamist groups and regimes. Some examples include:
Islamic Republic of Iran
Between 2012 and 2015, the Iranian regime relied on Ankara as well as Turkish banks and gold traders to circumvent US sanctions.
Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, detailed the Iran-Turkey cooperation, calling it “The Biggest Sanctions-Evasion Scheme in Recent History.”
He wrote: “A dual Iranian-Turkish national, [Reza] Zarrab was the swashbuckling gold trader who had helped Iran evade sanctions with the help of Turkish banks in 2013 and 2014, yielding Iran an estimated $13 billion at the height of the efforts to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. A leaked report by prosecutors in Istanbul in March 2014 suggested that Zarrab spearheaded a second sanctions-busting scheme involving fake invoices for billions more in fictitious humanitarian shipments to Iran that were processed through Turkish banks”.
Islamic State (ISIS)
Turkey operated as a transit hub for jihadists heading to Syria and Iraq beginning from the Arab Spring in 2011 and the emergence of ISIS in the region. In a 2015 report entitled “A Path to ISIS, Through a Porous Turkish Border,” the New York Times detailed the process for ISIS members to enter Syria to engage in jihad and other crimes against humanity. Turkey is also financially involved in ISIS activities. In 2014, for instance, BuzzFeed News reported on how ISIS smuggled Syrian oil into Turkey.
In April 2019, the US Treasury announced in a press release that it had designated key nodes of ISIS’s financial network stretching across the Middle East, Europe, and East Africa. According to the press release,
Six individuals, located in Iraq, Turkey, and Belgium, and the entity, an Iraq, Turkey, and Syria-based money services business (MSB), are part of the Rawi Network, a key ISIS financial facilitation group based out of Iraq, which was the target of a joint Treasury-Department of Defense (DOD) action in October 2018.
One was Umar Talib Zughayr al-Rawi (Umar), who was
designated for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to, or in support of, ISIS. As of early September 2017, Umar was an ISIS financial facilitation leader who received both money and gold from ISIS and transferred the money (or equivalent value of the gold) for ISIS. He transferred money throughout Iraq, and conducted transactions to and from Turkey.
He operated businesses in al-Qa’im, Ramadi, Hit, and Baghdad, Iraq; Albu Kamal, Syria; and Turkey.
Turkey’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) government also openly supports the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the Counter Extremism Project,
Despite banning and censoring thousands of oppositionist news outlets since taking the presidency in 2014, Erdoğan allows a handful of pro-Brotherhood stations to operate within the country. Stations such as Rabia TV, al-Sharq, and al-Watan (formerly Misr Alaan)—run by exiled Egyptian Brotherhood members such as former Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein and Brotherhood politician Basim al-Khafagy—often broadcast pro-Islamist messaging including glorified accounts of Brotherhood clashes with the Egyptian government and threats directed at Western-owned companies in Egypt to leave the country.
Analysts have also suggested that Turkey has supplied weapons and activists to the Muslim Brotherhood for its activities in Egypt. Turkish intelligence officer Irshad Hoz, for example, was arrested by authorities in Egypt in connection to the Brotherhood. Egypt has also accused the Turkish government of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood. In November 2017, Egyptian authorities detained 29 individuals on suspicion of espionage for Turkey. Egypt’s General Intelligence Services (GIS) alleged that they had been passing information to Turkish intelligence services as part of a plot to bring the Muslim Brotherhood back to power in Egypt.
Jihad in Africa and Boko Haram
Turkey’s involvement in jihad in African nations such as Nigeria and Libya has also caught media attention. In January, the Telegraph reported: “How weapons smuggled by Turkish criminals are fueling a deadly herder-farmer conflict in the Sahel.”
“A criminal gang operating out of Turkey has fuelled one of West Africa’s deadliest conflicts by smuggling in vast amounts of high-powered pump action shotguns, a study by arm control experts has found,” the paper said.
In February, the Nigerian newspaper Business Day reported:
Turkey is exporting jihadists and terrorists to Libya. It wouldn’t be long before these fighters find their way to other regions including West Africa where borders are porous-and into Nigeria where Boko Haram, ISWAP [Islamic State West Africa Province] and bandits are already proving too much for the government.
The Nigerian Armed Forces announced in November of 2019 that it was investigating a report alleging that Turkey was supplying sophisticated weapons to the Boko Haram terrorist group, Nigerian news website The Will reported.
Egyptian Television, Ten.tv, cited by the CBN News Channel, also alleged that Turkey was a supplier of arms to Boko Haram. The Turkish Airlines (THY) was accused in 2014 of carrying weapons and military equipment to Nigeria – an allegation the THY later denied.
Why is the Turkish government involved in global jihad? In 2013, the Turkish ambassador to Chad, Ahmet Kavas, posted a message on Twitter, claiming that Al-Qaeda “is not a terrorist organisation.” Kavas announced that “Al-Qaeda is very different from terror” and accused France of intentionally exaggerating the terrorist threat in Mali.
“The word ‘terror’ is a French invention. Not the work of Muslims,” Kavas stated on social media as French forces entered Mali in a bid to impede encroaching Islamist forces.
Erdogan also argued against the International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir on charges of genocide and war crimes in Darfur. He asserted: “It is not possible for those who belong to the Muslim faith to carry out genocide”.
Erdogan further claimed in 2017 that the ICC wrote a letter to Turkey saying it had information that Bashir was in Istanbul for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit and he should be arrested and handed over to the court. “Something like this just makes you laugh,” Erdogan was quoted as saying. Bashir visited Turkey at least twice – in 2017 and 2018.
According to the Erdogan government, if Muslims kill people to exterminate them, it is not genocide, and armed jihad is not a crime. It is a religious obligation. The Turkish government thus acts in line with its jihadist ideology. The question is: Does NATO, which Turkey is a member of, also support the same ideology and the Turkish government’s pro-jihad actions?
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara.