by Abdullah Bozkurt
The deliberate outing of an intelligence asset by the Turkish government, done to shift the blame to NATO allies UK and Canada, is one of many indicators showing how Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) has worked with militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as well as al-Qaeda groups, especially the Nusra Front, to further the political goals set by Islamist autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on his home turf as well as on foreign soil.
There were several key publicly exposed incidents that showed the complicity of Turkish intelligence in a dirty business with these crazy, hard-headed militants in Turkey’s neighborhood, but the one that avoided closer public scrutiny deserves special attention, showing how this symbiotic relationship works. My research on confidential wiretap records kept by the Turkish government on ISIL and al-Qaeda operatives in Turkey led me to conclude that the outing of a known ISIL trafficker named Mohammad Al Rashed, (aka the Doctor), a Syrian national and dentist by profession, in 2015 was part of a scheme to lay the blame on NATO allies.
On Feb. 17, 2015, three teenagers identified as Shamima Begum, Amira Abaze and Kadiza Sultana landed in Istanbul on a flight from London. They were put on a bus next day en route to Turkey’s border province of Gaziantep near Syria, with Ar-Raqqah being the end destination. After their arrival in Gaziantep, a city that is a hotbed for ISIL’s several Turkish affiliate networks, Rashed handed the girls over to ISIL handlers who later took the teenagers to the Syrian side of the border. The plan that Turkish intelligence organization MİT came up with was to pick-up the Doctor, leak his contrived testimony, share some evidence with pro-government media and have Turkish officials expand on the story.
The political goal was to relieve international pressure on Turkey by the US-led anti-ISIL coalition and scapegoat the UK and Canada for what Erdogan has been clandestinely doing with radical groups. The plan worked like a charm. First, police were alerted to Rashed’s whereabouts and had him picked up at Topçu Square in the neighboring border province of Şanlıurfa on Feb.28.
Then, a video of Rashed turning the British girls over to ISIL border traffickers was leaked to the A-Haber news TV network. A-Haber is owned by Erdoğan’s family and controlled by his son-in-law Berat Albayrak and his brother Serhat Albayrak. The network usually shies away from ISIL and al-Qaeda stories out of concern that they may hurt Erdogan and the government, but in this case they were the first to break the story in a prime time broadcast.
As the network started broadcasting video footage allegedly obtained from Rashed, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu rushed to give an exclusive televised interview in which he commented on Rashed’s arrest. Although he did not name the country, Çavuşoğlu claimed the man was working for an anti-ISIL coalition country. He then went on to criticize the West, saying they were not doing their own homework while Turkey had already done what was required of it. Similar talking points were fed to the press by his spokesperson, Tanju Bilgiç, followed by a leak of the identity of the country Rashed had worked in as a spy. It was allegedly Canada.
The conspiracy story was further stirred by A-Haber linking up to live feeds from the ground, with its reporter not only mentioning Canada but also raising the claim that Rashed had worked for British intelligence. The next day the Takvim daily, also controlled by Erdogan and known as a mouthpiece for Turkish intelligence, went overboard by claiming that the British teenagers were themselves actually spies working for the UK government. Rashed reportedly claimed he worked for Canadian intelligence and that his handler was allegedly a man named Matt at the Canadian Embassy in Amman, Jordan. Canada denied that Rashed was an employee of its intelligence agency, the CSIS.
This outing of an intel asset by MİT smelled like a perfect plot to scapegoat NATO allies for Erdoğan’s dirty work with ISIL when I looked at the wiretap records of ISIL traffickers in Turkey. The records show that Rashed has been known to Turkish intelligence for a long time and that he was allowed to operate with no trouble at all until that incident. At the same time, not only Rashed but most ISIL handlers, enablers and facilitators were monitored closely by intelligence. In fact, when the government decided to blow Rashed’s cover and leaked the story, ISIL border chief İlhami Balı (aka Abu Bekir) was recorded while talking about the case.
On March 13, 2015 at 19.29 hours, a man using a phone registered in the name of Mohamed Moustafa called Abu Bekir. Apparently panicked over news of the arrest of Rashed, he told Balı that the doctor (Rashed) was video recording their trafficking activities. He recounted how he and his aide had picked up the British girls in Gaziantep from Rashed and transported them to the Syrian side of the border. Abu Bekir was the man who reportedly gave orders for Turkey’s deadliest-ever suicide bomb attack in Ankara last year, which killed 104. He is also believed to have been involved in a bomb attack on a pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) rally in June 2015 that killed four in the city of Diyarbakir.
Abu Bekir is one of the key enablers of ISIL operating on the Turkish-Syrian border and had been under surveillance for a long time as part of investigation case No. 2014/129556. He was monitored and wiretapped by police under a warrant issued by the Ankara 9th High Criminal Court on Nov. 17, 2014. The authorization was regularly renewed. For example, the Ankara 11th High Criminal Court authorized an extension of the wiretap on Balı on Feb. 20, 2015. He has been on the most wanted terrorists list in Turkey, yet Abu Bekir has moved freely in and out of the border areas many times. The wiretaps showed he has been transporting wounded ISIL suspects to hospitals located in Turkish border provinces and procuring military supplies.
All this shows that Turkish intelligence knew all about ISIL networks in Turkey, surveilling all their activities in real time. It decided to out an asset to implicate the UK and Canada in order to kill two birds with one stone: Fuel the anti-Western conspiracy in Turkey and put Western governments on the defensive by feeding the false story line to the press. Perhaps, when the dust settles in Syria, more damaging evidence will emerge showing how Erdoğan and his intelligence network worked closely with radical terrorist groups to destabilize its neighbors.