In an article today, "Turkish Support for ISIS," I made the case that the AKP government of Prime Minister Erdoğan stands behind the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. This blog pursues the topic with new proofs.
To begin with, Michael Rubin has simultaneously with me published an article on this same topic, "Turkey: Al-Qaeda Not Terrorists."
June 23, 2014 update: Salih Muslim, the co-chairman of Syrian's dominant Kurdish organization, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), explains his basis for saying that the Turkish government has been supporting ISIS. Excerpts:
"ISIS itself says it gets Turkey's support. Its media gives details of how they get assistance from Turkey and how their militants reach them via Turkey."
Why the seizure of hostages in Mosul? "Some groups within ISIS could have done it without informing the others. For their safety or to blackmail Turkey not to alter its moderate approach to ISIS. It could well be an agreed scenario."
"At the end of May, our forces attacked Al Rawiya village under ISIS control. We found Turkish documents on the bodies of ISIS militants we killed there. … Various documents attesting to their presence in Turkey."
"Let's assume it is not the official state that is assisting ISIS, but the 'deep state' or other elements. In that case, why don't Turkish officials investigate the evidence, documents and other data we have been providing to them? Why don't they enter into solidarity with us against ISIS? There are so-called humanitarian relief organizations in Turkey that help ISIS. The Turkish government tells us millions of tourists come to Turkey and they can't check all [of them] one by one. But we say, 'We have proof. Those organizations meet them at the airport, take them to the border and across to Syria.' We have said all this but they don't take action.
June 24, 2014 update: Turfan Aydin, a Turkish trucker who has been working the route to Syria for years, tells a reporter that "For three years, we have seen ISIS flags in Syria, and that is because of Turkey. Turkey let them in."
June 25, 2014 update: Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies shows new aspects of this topic in "An Unhelpful Ally: ISIS and other violent factions have benefited from Turkey's loose border policies."
The ISIS crisis in Iraq is inextricably tied to the dangerous and permissive border policies of Mr. Erdoğan's government in Turkey over the past two years. It was only last year that U.S. President Barack Obama chided Mr. Erdoğan for "letting arms and fighters flow into Syria indiscriminately and sometimes to the wrong rebels, including anti-Western jihadists."
Mr. Obama wasn't alone in that assessment. As Human Rights Watch noted in an October report, "Many foreign fighters operating in northern Syria gain access to Syria via Turkey, from which they also smuggle their weapons, obtain money and other supplies, and sometimes retreat to for medical treatment."
Mr. Erdoğan has denied these allegations and vowed to prevent aid from flowing to jihadists in Syria. But media and law-enforcement reports contradict his statements. "The relative accessibility of the Syrian-Turkish border explains" why so many jihadists have made their way to Syria, the Journal reported earlier this month, citing Europol.
ISIS has found other transit points into Syria. But it's clear that this group, and other violent factions, have benefited from Turkey's Wild Wild East. As Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment told the website Syria Deeply in December, "Turkey is to Syria now what Pakistan was to Afghanistan in the 1990s."
June 26, 2014 update: İslami Giyim (Islamic dress), a shop in Istanbul's Bağcılar district, sells T-shirts with the ISIS emblem, though the owner denies any ties with the group. He told the BBC:
ISIS also uses it. We use it only because it is Islamic. We have no relation whatsoever to ISIS. If someone on the street were to see this it might bring to mind terrorism, but for some it would bring the Prophet. … I am proud to sell it. In the end, every clean job gets dirtied, but we are not going to discard it just because others are using it.
June 27, 2014 update: The families of 163 Turkish citizens have reported to the security forces that their relatives joined ISIS in in Syria.
July 3, 2014 update: Sayed Abdel-Meguid, Al-Ahram's excellent Turkey correspondent, provides more evidence in "ISIS, Erdogan and kidnapped Turks." In particular, he quotes Abdel-Latif Sener, one of the founders of the AKP who left politics some years ago:
The terrorists of ISIS come over from Syria and Iraq to dine on kebab in southern Turkish restaurants. Then, after rounding off their meals with a cup of tea, they head back to where they came from.
Also of interest, Abdel-Meguid draws an interview with an ISIS member in the Yurt newspaper where the member
spoke of the huge support his organisation received from the powers-that-be in Ankara. Were it not for that support, ISIS would not be where it is today in terms of number of combatants and the vital areas under its control, he said.
As though to corroborate his remarks, that ISIS militant was interviewed in Anatolia where he and fellow militants are being treated for wounds they received in battles in Syria. It should be added that they are not just being treated in hospitals near the Turkish border but also in public and private hospitals in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.
Observers estimate that there are from 2,500 to 3,000 ISIS members inside Turkey. Yet, the government has no intelligence on its possible sleeping cells, on how it recruits terrorists, and on where and how it gets its money. It also has no detailed information on the organisation's links with other Sunni countries, apart from Qatar.
Abdel-Meguid also quotes an editorial in Cumhuriyet: "The Turkish hostages in Mosul, who now number 95, are not being held by ISIS but by the AKP."
July 5, 2014 update: Firatnews, a Kurdish source, reports under "Turkish support for ISIS continues" about the accusations of Ahmed Kurdi, the leader of the Kurdish Front Brigade:
Hajji Ahmed Kurdi emphasised that Turkey had maintained its support for ISIS, saying they had definite proof and documentation of this support. He added that some of the Kurdish Front's fighters and supporters who had been captured by ISIS had been interrogated by Turkish officers, saying: "all our people said that Turkish officers had taken part in interrogation. This proves support is continuing. They pretend to be in conflict with this organisation, but this is not true."
Hajji Ahmed Kurdi said that ISIS crossed the Turkish border at will. "In order to surround Azaz they use the Çobanbey – Jarablus stretch [50 km long] of the border openly. Sometimes they cross the border as al-Nusra Front or Liwa al-Tawhid fighters. They don't even feel the need to act in a clandestine way, they do it openly."
July 7, 2014 update: An article in today's Turkish newspaper Aydınlık, "MİT'ten IŞİD'e paralı asker" ("Retired Turkish Soldiers Fighting for ISIS") has also appeared in English translation:
One group of retired Turkish soldiers from the Special Forces Command are reportedly fighting together with militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in Iraq, a fact that shockingly even PM Erdoğan knows.
The soldiers are believed to be joining ISIS in exchange for high wages. Some of the anonymous colleagues of the soldiers have identified them from images taken during combat. The investigations have discovered that the Turkish Intelligence Organization (MİT by its Turkish initials) sent the retired soldiers to Iraq to support the terrorism in the region.
One anonymous witness informed Aydınlık Newspaper that: "These events began during the Libya operation. It was so obvious that some even made comments about it on TV. MİT controls the operation. They did the same in Syria, as well. They also took part in the attack by the opposition forces in Keseb. Most of those with masks are from this group. They keep their masks on even in hot weather to avoid being recognized. They are now side by side with ISIS in Mosul. They act like legionaries. It has become explicit when some took their masks off."
It was also claimed that some high ranking commanders in the Turkish Armed Forces also know about the AKP government's provocation of terrorism in the region, even if they do not fully approve. As it can be imagined, the incidents of the Turkish flag being taken down in Diyarbakır and Turkish diplomats kidnapped in Mosul were all in accordance with the plans of MİT.
Another anecdote regarding the issue is that the logistic base of the whole operation is the central Anatolian province Konya, from where required military equipment is provided and handed over to ISIS.
July 8, 2014 update: Salih Muslim, co-president of Syria's Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) accuses "certain institutions inside the Turkish state" of permitting ISIS-linked jihadis to access Syrian territory via Turkey and of treating ISIS wounded fighters in Turkish hospitals.
July 9, 2014 update: Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, reports Aydınlık, appeared on a TV programme on July 8, to talk about Iraq and "failed to even mention the name of terror organization ISIS, which invaded Mosul and murdered large numbers of Iraqi Turkmans living in the area. Davutoğlu instead stated that the photo of Turkish PM Tayyip Erdoğan and Masoud Barzani was the most important event in the century."
July 13, 2014 update: Two Kurdish accusations of Turkish governmental help to ISIS:
(1) The Kurdistan Democratic Communities' Union (KCK) accuses the Republic of Turkey of opening its borders to ISIS, "ensuring their crossing into Rojava and setting them against the people of Kobani," and also of cooperating with ISIS.
(2) People's Democracy Party (HDP) co-chair Figen Yuksekdağ says that ISIS fighters wounded in attacks on Rojave were provided with medical treatment in Hatay.
The backward and murderous IS gang has been able to use conveniently Turkish territory as a logistical base and move easily back and forth across the border. Those gangs have been given this opportunity directly by the Turkish state and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. The people, however, are unable to cross the same borders. … Two days ago, we obtained information that their wounded were brought to Hatay. Wounded members of the IS gangs have been brought to the Mustafa Kemal University Hospital in Hatay and treated there. We have information that this is still continuing.
July 14, 2014 update: From the Turkish newspaper Aydınlık, "MİT Transporting Terrorists to Syria":
The Syria-Turkey border by the Turkish Intelligence Organization MİT together with their weapons as a part of a AKP government plan to provoke clashes in Syria. This scandalous truth about the AKP government was revealed during an operation in the south of Turkey on the 10 January when police forces stopped a bus on the way to Syrian border and seized weapons which had been forgotten in the trunk. As a result of the testimonies of bus drivers in the region, police found out that terrorists had been taken to Syrian border by MİT.
The fact that terrorists are being supported by the AKP government has put MİT and gendarmerie forces and prosecutors in the region at odds with one another over the past few months. Some anonymous officials investigating the case told Aydınlık Newspaper that an executive of the bus company carrying the terrorists and ammunition to Syria had showed an agreement with MİT, which was also taken into the scope of the investigation.
One of the officials claimed that the government tried to cover up this case by putting the blame on the Gülen Gang, however Prosecutor Mustafa Sırlı was suspended from his duty as he was chasing after the investigation. At the same time, the video proving that MİT was providing transportation and arms to terrorists is believed to have disappeared among the official reports.
July 19, 2014 addendum: An Albanian expert on international security, Ilir Kulla, said that hundreds of jihadis from Kosovo, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina have gone to fight for ISIS via Turkey. "Turkey is the main waypoint, but not the only road. Even Iraq and Lebanon are used, but this is nothing new. All you need to do is look at Turkish Airlines flights for Tirana-İstanbul-Antakya and you can see the reality."
July 29, 2014 update: With permission from AKP politicians an ISIS-affiliated publication called Tevhid Dergisi used public land to hold a Bayram event in Istanbul at which speakers praised ISIS and called for volunteers to go on jihad in Syria.
Reporter Eren Erdem took these pictures of ISIS supporters rallying a crown on public land in Istanbul, then sent them out on Twitter.
July 30, 2014 updates: (1) "Turkey paved the way for us. Had Turkey not shown such understanding for us, the Islamic State would not be in its current place. It [Turkey] showed us affection. Large number of our mujahedeen received medical treatment in Turkey," says an Islamic State soldier while in Ankara for medical care, as reported in an interview by Deniz Kahraman in Aydınlık and OdaTV (via MEMRI and the Jerusalem Post).
(2) A video on takvahaber.net, a website close to ISIS, shows a jihadi gathering in Omerli, on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, on July 28 for prayers marking the end of Ramadan. The 26-minute recording includes a preacher saying "Let God make us fight the just war of jihad" and "May God help jihadists and those who are patient for victory. May God help their shots hit the mark."
Aug. 2, 2014 update: Turkish officials estimate that slightly more than 1,000 Turkish citizens are fighting for ISIS. With about 12,000-15,000 militiamen in all, this means that Turks make up somewhat less than 10 percent of its force. Serkan Demirtaş reports this and notes in Hürriyet that this raises many questions about Turkish government actions:
Who organized the recruitment of these people for ISIL? What organizations sponsored these recruitments? Which routes have been used? Assuming the security forces and the intelligence are closely following the jihadist movements in Turkey, how did they fail to realize that more than 1,000 Turks have joined ISIL? Could it be because security forces and intelligence skipped their main duties and responsibilities as they are chasing what the government calls the "parallel state"? [A reference to the AKP's war on the Gülen movement.]
In addition, other disquieting news:
Turkish media broadcast a few days ago pictures of hundreds of men with long beards in Taliban-style dress gathering for Eid al-Fitr somewhere in Istanbul. The group was allegedly linked with ISIL, and they dedicated their Eid al-Fitr prayers to ISIL fighters in Iraq and Syria.
Aug. 6, 2014 updates: (1) According to an analysis by Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Ankara has indeed awakened to the threat ISIS poses to Turkey.
(2) Ciwan Ibrahim, head of the Syrian Kurdish security police forces (the Asayish), has accused the Turkish government of continuing to support ISIS:
Ankara supports radical groups. Near the border with Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan], a refugee camp is used as a training camp for jihadist fighters. They also support them with medicine and treat wounded jihadist fighters in their hospitals. Ankara does not control the border's security and allows Islamist groups to operate under the name Free Syrian Army, Islamic Front or IS. These groups are collaborating together in the Jazeera area against the Kurds to destroy the region.
(3) Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu apparently defends ISIS, according to a report from Özgür Gündem. From a source in Syrian Kurdistan:
The Foreign Minister made the comments on a television program in which he seemingly defended ISIS from the "terrorist" or "radical" label. Davutoğlu told viewers that "a structure such as ISIS can seem like a radical or terrorist structure but there are different groups involved. There are Sunni Arabs, there are a significant amount of Turkmens."
He went on to add that while many were quick to point the finger at ISIS the Syrian and Iraqi regimes were the real cause of the trouble, saying "If Sunni Arabs had not been excluded in Iraq, the provinces of Mosul and Anbar would not be in such a rage today. Like in Syria if there had not been a government of a group representing 12% of society then it would not have been like this and these things would not have happened. There is a community whose rage has built up to a considerable extent."
Aug. 9, 2014 update: Turkey's Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz says his government has not provided "any support to the U.S. so far" in Iraq. By way of explanation, he pointed to the 49 Turkish citizens taken hostage by ISIS in Mosul; because of this, "it is impossible for us to do anything different."
The AKP deputy chairman, Mehmet Ali Sahin, goes further. Noting that the hostages' "health and fate is important for us more than anything else," he mildly opposed the U.S. air strikes on ISIS: "We have serious concerns over the bombings, in case these people [i.e., the Turkish hostages] suffer from them."
Aug. 12, 2014 update: The Washington Post carries a major story on this topic: "In Turkey, a late crackdown on Islamist fighters" by Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet, that details Turkey's evolution from soft support of ISIS to mild opposition toward it.
Before their blitz into Iraq earned them the title of the Middle East's most feared insurgency, the jihadists of the Islamic State treated this Turkish town near the Syrian border as their own personal shopping mall. And eager to aid any and all enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey rolled out the red carpet.
In dusty market stalls, among the baklava shops and kebab stands, locals talk of Islamist fighters openly stocking up on uniforms and the latest Samsung smartphones. Wounded jihadists from the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front — an al-Qaeda offshoot also fighting the Syrian government — were treated at Turkish hospitals. Most important, the Turks winked as Reyhanli and other Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.
"Turkey welcomed anyone against Assad, and now they are killing, spreading their disease, and we are all paying the price," said Tamer Apis, a politician in Reyhanli, where two massive car bombs killed 52 people last year. In a nearby city, Turkish authorities seized another car packed with explosives in June, raising fears of an Islamic State-inspired campaign to export sectarian strife to Turkey. "It was not just us," Apis said. "But this is a mess of Turkey's making." …
[One Islamic State commander] suggested that the group had the Turks to thank in part for its current success. "We used to have some fighters — even high-level members of the Islamic State — getting treated in Turkish hospitals," he said. "And also, most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies."
That was then.
Alarmed by the growing might of the Islamic State, Turkey has started cracking down. Working with the United States and European governments, Turkish officials have enacted new safeguards to detain foreign fighters trying to get into Syria and launched a military offensive aimed at curtailing the smuggling of weapons and supplies across the border. …
despite the new measures, the Islamic State is still slipping through Turkish nets — raising doubts about international efforts to put a stranglehold on a radical Sunni group known for public crucifixions and the beheading of enemies. "It is not as easy to come into Turkey anymore," Abu Yusaf, a 27-year-old senior security commander for the Islamic State, said in a recent interview conducted in the back seat of a moving white Honda in Reyhanli. "I myself had to go through smugglers to get here, but as you see, there are still ways and methods."
Wearing a polo shirt and white baseball cap to blend in on the more secular streets of Turkey, Yusaf, the nom de guerre of the European-born fighter who joined the group 2½ years ago, added: "We don't believe in countries . . . breaking and destroying all borders is our aim. What matters are Islam and a Sunni reign."
The authors contend that "Turkey's about-face may be too little, too late." Abu Yusaf
conceded that the recent crackdown had made it more difficult to continue using Turkey as a supply route. But he added that the group had grown so strong in Iraq — where it won fast allies among the Sunni tribes — that it no longer needed to rely on the Turkish border. "Now we are getting enough weapons from Iraq, and there is enough to buy even within Syria," he said. "There is no real need to get things from outside anymore."
Meanwhile, Turkey remains a lucrative market for bootlegged gasoline coming from Syria and Iraq, some of which is almost surely coming from areas controlled by the Islamic State. In Haji Pasha, a Turkish town in the shadow of the hilly Syrian border, dozens of farmers and laborers have switched jobs. Now, they are gasoline smugglers.
Aug. 13, 2014 update: David L. Phillips of Columbia University asks "Why is Turkey supporting Islamic State fighters in Iraq?":
Cengiz Candar, one of Turkey's most respected journalists recently wrote that Turkey's Intelligence Agency (MIT) was the "midwife" that helped birth the Sunni armed movement. Beginning in 2012, according to Candar, Turkey provided weapons and logistical support to jihadis fighting the Syrian regime and to abort the birth of an autonomous Kurdistan in Syria. …
With or without Erdogan's knowledge, the ISIS gravy train continued. An IHH truck was stopped by the gendarmerie near Adana in Hatay on January 1, 2014. It was loaded with arms and ammunition headed for Syria. The Hatay public prosecutor tried to launch an investigation, but was blocked. When he filed a criminal complaint alleging obstruction of justice by Turkey's Interior Minister and MIT, he was dismissed. Police who stopped the vehicle were fired. The Hatay governor said the operation was a "state secret."
Ammunition was also found on two passenger buses heading to Syria. Officers from the antiterrorism branch of the Adana Police Department released photos of ammunition on the buses to the media. They, too, were fired. … Members of Turkey's parliament allege that the government still supports jihadis — facilitating their travel at border crossings between Turkey and Syria, providing truckloads of weapons, and offering health care at Turkish state hospitals to wounded warriors.
Parliamentarians wrote President-elect Erdogan and Davutoglu asking for an official explanation of government ties to ISIS, and its knowledge about IHH activities. The letters were conveyed through Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek. The government did not respond.
Deputies report the steady flow of unmarked trucks in Adana, Kilis, Gaziantep, and Kayseri – towns near the border with Syria. They believe the trucks are transporting weapons. Residents of Kilis describe routine interaction between Turkish officials on one side of the border and ISIS on the other.
According to a Turkish doctor, Turkish ambulances deliver war-wounded to Turkish hospitals on the border with Syria. They have no papers or identification. The Ministry of Health covers their expenses. The notorious ISIS commander, Abu Muhammed, was photographed receiving treatment at Hatay State Hospital in April 2014.
Not all ISIS fighters are foreign fighters. About 10 percent are Turkish citizens, according to a well-known Turkish scholar.
Aug. 14, 2014 update: According to Hasan Nasrullah, the head of Hizbullah, "Turkey and Qatar are supporting ISIS."
Aug. 18, 2014 update: The Aug. 12 Washington Post account excerpted above has prompted the opposition CHP in Turkey to ask what is going on. A deputy from Istanbul, Mahmut Tanal, asked the interior minister how Post reporters could interview a senior ISIS commander, Abu Yusaf, in Turkey. "Was the commander of a dangerous organization such as the IS able to enter Turkey and was the fact that he conducted an interview [in Turkey] a security breach? … Is entering Turkey that easy? Is it within your knowledge that IS militants wander in the Reyhanlı bazaar freely?"
Related Topics: Iraq, Radical Islam, Syria, Turkey and Turks
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