memri
January 14, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6267

More On The Turkey-ISIS Connection

January 14, 2016
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 6267

In recent months, further information about the AKP government's support for ISIS and other jihadis in Syria has come to light. Turkish journalists who have documented their government's support for terrorists and who have published evidence of truckloads of arms and ammunition, as well as fighters, being sent into Syria have been threatened, arrested, and imprisoned by Turkish authorities.[1] Foreign media have also extensively covered Turkey's sponsorship of ISIS and other terrorist organizations, and documented the ease with which thousands of foreign and Turkish jihadis enter and exit Syria under the eyes of Turkish officials.

However, Western governments have refrained from criticizing Turkey's conduct in this matter, and continue to call Turkey "a partner in the fight against terrorism." Many in Turkey, including Mehves Evin, columnist for Turkish opposition daily Diken, have asked, in light of this heavy media coverage of Turkey's sponsorship of jihadi terrorists, "Why isn't there a peep from the West?"[2]

The following report presents further evidence of the Turkish government's support and sponsorship of ISIS and other jihadi terrorist organizations: 

After Turkish Daily Cumhuriyet Released Video Footage Of Weapons-Filled Syria-Bound Turkish Trucks, Paper's Editor-In-Chief, Ankara Bureau Chief Are Imprisoned, Charged With Treason, Espionage, And Terrorism

On November 26, 2015, Can Dundar, prominent journalist and editor-in-chief of Turkey's oldest daily Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gul, its Ankara bureau chief, were arrested; they are now being held in isolation pending a trial initiated by Erdogan himself, on charges of espionage, treason, and providing support for terrorism. The charges are in connection with the newspaper's May 29, 2015 publication of video footage of a January 19, 2014 search conducted by Turkish judicial, security, and military officials of three large Syria-bound trucks in the Turkish border province of Adana; the search turned up heavy weaponry concealed under boxes of medicines. The weaponry, including missiles, mortars, anti-aircraft ammunition artillery, and grenades, was being transported by Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT) to jihadi organizations in Syria. Erdogan, at that time prime minister, immediately intervened to stop the search, and to secure the release of the MIT personnel carrying the arms into Syria.

Earlier, on January 1, 2014, a similar truck was stopped in the border province of Hatay, but no search could be conducted due to intervention by the local governor on behalf of the government.

The Adana and Hatay prosecutors' investigations into both of the incidents, which came to be known as the "MIT trucks affair," and all related legal files, were closed; gag orders were issued, and all security personnel, high-ranking military officers, and prosecutors involved in the searches were arrested. Erdogan, the AKP government, and its partisan media claimed that the trucks had only been carrying humanitarian aid to Turkmens in Syria.

Along with the video footage, published 17 months after the incident, Cumhuriyet also published other court documents, under the headline "The Weapons That Erdogan Said Did Not Exist"[3]

The following is the video footage published by Cumhuriyet:

Following Dundar's imprisonment, an outcry arose in Turkey and in press organizations in Turkey and internationally; he has since received multiple press awards. Additionally, teams of journalists from the anti-AKP media, along with MPs from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), and artists and intellectuals, have been sitting in shifts outside the gates of the Silivri prison compound in Istanbul, where the detainees are being held, in solidarity.[4]  

MIT Transports Jihadis, Weapons From One Syrian Battlefront To Another - Via Turkey

On June 11, 2015, Cumhuriyet also published a video of statements by two bus drivers telling authorities how they had been commissioned by the MIT to transport, on the night of January 9, 2014, over 70 Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN) jihadi fighters, along with a large load of arms and ammunition, from Atme Camp in Syria near the Reyhanli border crossing in the Turkish province of Hatay, to Tel Abyad in Syria, near the Akcakale border crossing in the southeastern Turkish province of Urfa. They showed where they had entered Syria from Turkey, without headlights, stopping near a building in Atme Camp where the JN flag was flying and "La-i-lahe-il-Allah" ("There is no God but Allah") was painted on the wall. At Atme, they said, they had not been allowed off their buses, and the buses had been boarded there by bearded, Arabic-speaking militants who also loaded large boxes of weapons onto them. The drivers said that they then drove back into Turkey and proceeded without stopping to re-cross into Syria at Akcakale. At around 5:30 AM, near Tel Abyad, the militants disembarked with their weaponry.

It will be remembered that at that time ISIS was fighting to take control of Tel Abyad, and several days later, on January 13, it succeeded in doing so.

According to Cumhuriyet, the jihadis were transported from one point to another in Syria via Turkey because it was unsafe for Islamist fighters to travel through Syrian territory that was under Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) control, such as Kobane.

The drivers also stressed that they had committed no crime, as they had been hired by the MIT to work for the government and had been escorted throughout by MIT operatives in two black vehicles.

The AKP government called the Cumhuriyet report a lie and libel, and, on February 14, 2014, ordered the investigation into the matter and the related files closed, removed the prosecutor from his position, and sealed and covered up the incident.[5]


Left: The Cumhuriyet video showing the building in Atme Camp where the drivers picked up the jihadis. Right: The route taken by the buses carrying jihadis from Atme Camp in Syria to Tel Abyad in Syria, via Turkey. 

CHP MP Says Sarin Gas Components Were Transferred To ISIS Via Turkey; Erdogan Accuses Him Of Treason; Criminal Investigation Against Him Is Launched

On several occasions - at an October 21, 2015 press conference, in an early December 2015 interview with the Russian news agency RT, and in a December 10, 2105 speech in the Turkish parliament, CHP MP Eren Erdem said that components for sarin gas had been imported from foreign countries, some of them European, by Turkish businessmen on behalf of an ISIS operative, and delivered to a terrorist organization in Syria, for the production of chemical weapons that were later used in Syria.[6]

Erdem said that his claims were based on a 2013 investigation, case file number 2013/139, by the Chief Prosecutor's Office in the southern province of Adana. According to this investigation, five Turkish citizens the wanted Al-Qaeda/ISIS militant and Syrian citizen Hayyam Qassap were arrested and prosecuted for procuring the toxic components to be transferred to ISIS in Syria.

Erdem stressed that the statements he was making were not his own, but that he had been quoting a Republic's Chief Prosecutor. He added that in late June 2013 this case had been closed and a news blackout imposed on it, and that on July 1, 2013 the six accused had been released from prison and allowed to cross into Syria.

Erdem launched a parliamentary inquiry in October 2015 demanding government explanations in this matter, but to date Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has not responded.

On December 18, 2015, Erdogan publicly accused Erdem of treason. The same day, the Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office sent a summary of proceedings to the Ministry of Justice for permission to begin legal action against Erdem; if it is sent on to the parliament, the process to strip him of his parliamentary immunity so that he can be tried for treason will begin.[7] Since then, he has been threatened by the pro-AKP media and subjected to a lynching campaign on social media; in addition, he and his family have received death threats.

On December 23, 2015, Erdogan blasted Erdem again, calling him a "traitor," and also slammed CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu for his defense and protection of Erdem. The previous evening, in a televised interview,[8] Erdem had reiterated that he had accused neither Turkey nor the government, but had only objected to the release of the suspected businessmen and of a Syrian militant who had attempted to procure illegal chemical components to transfer to Syria via Turkey.[9]  

"Jihad Hospital" In Turkey For Islamist Terrorists

In September 2015, the Turkish opposition daily Birgun visited a 75-bed "jihad hospital" in the border province of Gaziantep that treats the mujahedeen fighting in Syria, and on September 22 reported:[10] "Turkey... is turning a blind eye to a medical support network serving the Islamic Front militants. The administrators of the six-floor, 75-bed hospital in Gaziantep told Birgun that during the first eight months of 2014 they had treated well over 700 militants; they administrators also expressed their gratitude to the local security officials and the AKP municipality for their assistance, and for the AKP government's support."

The Birgun report continued: "The AKP government... continues to assist the jihadi organizations, and by permitting the operations of a medical network that extends from Aleppo to Ankara and Istanbul, is trying to strengthen the hand of the Islamic Front, an umbrella organization for many jihadi groups fighting in Syria, which is structured like ISIS and has at least 45,000 active fighters, especially in the Idlib and Aleppo areas. Their wounded are treated in Gaziantep.

"The treatment of the wounded fighters is made possible by ImkanDer, an Islamist association, whose regional representative is Sait Gokdere. He is the former executive of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), that became known in connection with from the 2010 sailing of the Mavi Marmara to break Israel's blockade on Gaza. Gokdere told us that the IHH focused their activities on Syria when the civil war broke out, and that thanks to the AKP government's permission and support, 'may Allah bless them,' they were able to provide health services to the mujahideen at this rehabilitation facility and in the many houses in the area that have been turned into clinics, reaching a capacity of 150 beds. He said that the hospital personnel were conducting their activities, and exiting and entering Syria officially, with the permission of the authorities.

 "Doctors with whom we [Birgun] spoke explained that the treatment of wounded fighters begins with receiving news [of them] from Aleppo, through their local sources there. They then dispatch vehicles into Syria to bring them over. The seriously wounded are taken to state hospitals in Kilis or Gaziantep, and in the rare cases when they are not able to treat their injuries, they are sent to hospitals in Ankara or Istanbul. Once these wounded mujahedeen are out of intensive care, they are taken to the home clinics or to this hospital. Upon their recovery, they return to Syria to resume fighting."


A recovering jihadi in the "jihadi hospital" in Gaziantep. Birgun, September 22, 2015 

ISIS In Turkey

Since 2013, the opposition media in Turkey have been reporting on the spread of Salafi ideology within the country, and on the steady stream of thousands of Turkish jihadis who join ISIS, Jabhat Al-Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham, and other terrorist organizations in Syria. An estimated 10,000 Turkish jihadis have gone to Syria to join the fight, as the AKP government has turned a blind eye.  

Turkish ISIS Militant In Ankara: ISIS "Loves Turkey, Because Of The Ease At The Borders And For Its Allowing Safe Passage To Fighters Of Many Nationalities"

Birgun interviewed multiple ISIS militants in the Hacibayram district, in Ankara, which has become an ISIS center. While its report, published July 8, 2015, included names of recruiters and recruits, the Turkish government has done nothing to stem the flow of recruits into Syria.

C.A., 29, told Birgun that initially there had been many Al-Qaeda operatives in the area, but that they had declared their allegiance to ISIS. He recounted how, after he decided to go to the Islamic State in February 2014, he had established contact with some well-known people in order to cross the border. He told how upon arrival he had received education in Koranic verses, Hadith, shari'a law, and the high purpose of ISIS's fight, and then had received military training. He said he fought there for nine months and could not remember how many people he had killed.

Asked whether he had seen any Turkish police or soldiers during his border crossings, C.A. said: "Turkey permits the crossings to Dawla [the Islamic State]. My first time, I came face to face with a military police officer. They see you, but pretend they don't," Only once, he said, the last time he returned to Turkey was he caught - and that time he was taken before a judge, who released him. Asked about how ISIS views Turkey, and whether "talk that ISIS militants may [be planning to or intending to] conduct operations inside Turkey" was true, C.A. answered: "Dawla loves Turkey, because of the ease it provides at the borders and for its allowing safe passage to fighters of many nationalities. The mujahideen there [in the Islamic State] criticize Turkey because it is not ruled by Allah's rule, but there is no thought or intention to fight Turkey. Turkey, on the other hand, helps us because we fight particularly against the Kurdish PKK. Allah knows, if ISIS is given one month without the [coalition and Russian] air raids, we will eliminate the PKK."[11]  

Turkish Jihadi: "Jihad Is A Religious Obligation, Like Daily Prayers; If A Muslim Is Hurt In The Arctic, We Would Go There Too"

The major mainstream Turkish daily Hurriyet tracked ISIS in five Turkish cities, interviewing the families of many who had joined ISIS, and some jihadis. The report, published September 22, 2014, showed how easy it was for thousands of Turkish and foreign fighters to cross the southeastern border of Turkey into Syria, and how a new breed of Islamist associations, Islamist lodges, Islamist chat rooms, and Islamist bookstores and cafes were popping up around the country encouraging young Turks to join the jihad and to receive Islamic education and preliminary training. The report also mentioned young jihadis who had fought alongside ISIS or the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra and who had returned to Turkey to receive medical treatment after being wounded.

An ISIS recruit, interviewed in Istanbul, told the reporters that he had entered Syria five times. Like the other recruits, he said, he had been escorted by militants to the border, jumped the fence, and ran into one of the houses on the Syrian side. First, he had joined Jabhat Al-Nusra, but then switched to ISIS. Asked whether he would also go to fight in other Muslim countries, he answered: "It is a religious obligation. Jihad [is] like daily prayers. If a Muslim is hurt in the Arctic, we would go there too."

Worried families told Hurriyet that that their sons had gone "to die for the Muslims." A father in Gaziantep said that his son, 22, and nephew, 34, had both left to join ISIS, and that when he reported this to police, he was told: "Everybody goes there [to ISIS]. Don't mess with this issue, so as not to get yourself into trouble."[12]

In a July 23, 2015 column titled "ISIS Among Us," Aydin Engin wrote in Cumhuriyet that not only were the suicide bomber who carried out the June 5, 2015 attack at the pro-Kurd Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) campaign rally in Diyarbakir, killing six and wounding 400 and the one who carried out the July 20, 2015 attack in Suruc, killing 33, Turkish citizens who had joined ISIS, but that there were thousands more like them across Turkey. He also wrote that ordinary citizens in all the cities and towns of the southern border provinces of Turkey can easily point out ISIS houses, ISIS cells, the wounded ISIS militants brought in daily from Syria to their hospitals, and groups of ISIS members sitting at tables in restaurants. Engin asked how it would be possible for the AKP government and the MIT not to be aware of what every citizen knows so well - i.e. that ISIS is everywhere in Turkey.[13]  

ISIS Affiliates In Istanbul Hold Events, Call For Jihad - Without Interference By Turkish Security

While Turkish police are always present at protests, and frequently disperse crowds with water cannon, pepper gas, and, sometimes, bullets, Islamist organizations are allowed to openly demonstrate and call for shari'a law and jihad, in major cities. Similarly, the AKP government closes down media outlets and websites of dissenters and Kurds, while Islamist websites disseminating ISIS propaganda are left to operate freely.


ISIS-affiliated group at an encampment in an Istanbul park allocated to them by the AKP celebrates Ramadan, praises ISIS, and calls to jihad. Photos: Rotahaber and Twitter, July 29, 2014.


Endnotes:

[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No 1165, Dictatorship In Erdogan's Turkey - Part II: The Domestic Scene On The Eve Of Crucial General Elections, June 5, 2015.

[2] Diken (Turkey), November 26, 2015.

[3] Cumhuriyet (Turkey), May 29, 2015.

[4] Cumhuriyet (Turkey), November 27-present , 2015

[5] Cumhuriyet (Turkey), June 11, 2015.

[7] Cumhuriyet, Zaman (Turkey) December 18, 2015

[8] Halk TV (Turkey), December 22, 2015.

[9] Zaman (Turkey), December 23, 2015.

[10] Birgun (Turkey) September 22, 2014.

[11] Birgun (Turkey), July 8, 2015.

[12] Hurriyet, (Turkey), September 22, 2014

[13] Cumhuriyet (Turkey), July 23, 2015.

Share this Report:

HELP BRIDGE THE LANGUAGE GAP – DONATE TO MEMRI’S 2020 SUMMER CAMPAIGN