[OPINION] Turkish charity IHH works with Turkish intelligence MIT to empower jihadists

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (C) is seen with Bülent Yıldırım (R), head of the IHH, and Sedat Peker, a pro-government ultranationalist Turkish mafia leader, during a wedding ceremony in İstanbul in 2015.

Abdullah Bozkurt

A new cache of confidential documents from a classified investigation in Turkey shows that controversial charity group the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH, in Turkish) has been working with the Turkish spy agency, the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), to enable jihadist terror groups.

The documents, copies of which were recently provided to me by a reliable source, clearly show that the head of the IHH, Bülent Yıldırım, has been in bed with the Turkish spy agency in running jihadist networks from Syria to Turkey. They also reveal the extent of his network with the Turkish government at the Cabinet level. It lays bare how the grass roots of the IHH were mobilized by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when the Turkish president needed political cover in the face of public pressure and criticism. They are in line with Russian allegations at the United Nation Security Council that the IHH was running arms to Syrian jihadist groups with cover provided by the Turkish government.

The secret investigation included the transcripts of 142 phone wiretaps that were duly authorized by the courts between Jan. 6, 2013 and Dec. 17, 2013 as part of an investigation into radical Islamist groups. They identify a man named Veli Çayır, an intelligence officer who worked as the right-hand man of Hakan Fidan, the head of the Turkish spy agency. It feels like the IHH head has a special hotline to Çayır and calls him whenever he feels he needs to share information on developments in Turkey and abroad where the IHH has operations under the cover of charitable work. In wiretapped evidence dated Feb. 25, 2013, Çayır makes clear to Yıldırım that he was assigned to work with him under specific orders from MIT Undersecretary Fidan and can call him day and night if needed.

The records show they try to avoid divulging secret information on the phone and prefer to use couriers to send sensitive messages or get together in person in secure locations. At times, Yıldırım appears to have visited the headquarters of MIT in Ankara’s Yenimahalle district. Nevertheless, they inadvertently release much information on the phone as they talk. The information gleaned from the wiretaps is enough to tie the IHH to Turkey’s notorious intelligence agency. Given the fact that the IHH has penetrated many countries abroad including ones in Europe under the guise of charitable and humanitarian work, there are enough reasons to be concerned about Erdoğan’s long arm reaching out to Turkish and Muslim diaspora communities.

On May 4, 2013 Yıldırım talks to Adem Özköse, a journalist who is known to be very close to jihadist groups, and says they should go and fight in Syria. When Özköse asked what exactly they should be doing in Syria, Yıldırım says arms should be sent to Syria or funds must be provided so that jihadists can purchase arms. He says he got fed up with protest meetings as they are futile for getting results. In a wiretap on Nov. 23, 2013, the IHH president brags about how he chided Muslim scholars who criticized the IHH for carrying arms under the guise of humanitarian aid. He says he told them the IHH can only send small arms in aid packages, while others are sending missiles.

In fact, the IHH sent weapons to Syria. The al-Qaeda investigation in January 2014 in Turkey’s eastern province of Van revealed how an IHH employee was working with a Turkish al-Qaeda cell and using the charity as a cover to move supplies to militants in Syria. The terrorists used the IHH’s logistics centers in two Turkish provinces, Kilis and Kayseri, to send funds and medical and household supplies to jihadists in Syria. Thanks to monitoring by police intelligence since 2012, a terrorist cell led by İbrahim Şen (37), a convicted al-Qaeda terrorist who was running a recruitment and trafficking drive between Turkey and Syria and using the IHH, among others, was uncovered.

Şen was detained in Pakistan on alleged al-Qaeda links and transferred to Guantanamo where he was kept until 2005, before US officials decided to turn him over to Turkey. According to the investigation file in Turkey, he had been working with Turkey’s MİT since the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011. Apparently due to his political cover from the government and a secret contract with MİT, Şen was saved from legal troubles. He was arrested in January 2014 and indicted in October 2014 but let go at the first hearing of the trial in October 2014.

Investigators believed that Şen used these NGOs when he wanted to conceal illegal shipments to jihadists, and the conclusion was that these NGOs took part in this scheme deliberately, knowing full well what they were getting into. Three people identified by the police as partners of Şen in smuggling goods to Syria are Ömer Faruk Aksebzeci (works out of the IHH Kayseri branch), Recep Çamdalı (a member of the IHH in the Kayseri branch) and İbrahim Halil İlgi (working out of the Kilis IHH branch). The transcripts of wiretaps between Şen and these operatives showed how they planned to use ambulances to transport goods to jihadists when the border governor prohibited pick-up trucks from crossing into Syria.

The IHH was flagged by Russia as the organization that smuggled arms to jihadist groups in Syria, according to intelligence documents submitted to the UN Security Council on Feb. 10, 2016. The document even furnished the license plate numbers of trucks dispatched by the IHH loaded with arms and supplies bound for al-Qaeda-affiliated groups including the Nusra Front.

The new confidential documents that I got my hands on expose how IHH President Yıldırım is intimately involved with rebels in Syria. For example, on May 28, 2013 Yıldırım called his contact at MIT, informing him that the IHH was hosting Zahran Alloush, the head of Liwa al-Islam (later changed its name to Jaysh al-Islam), a Salafist jihadist group active around Damascus, in Turkey and wanted to arrange a meeting between him, his deputy Abu Nour and MIT officials. Alloush was later killed by a Syrian Air Force airstrike on Dec. 25, 2015.

In another call on June 12, 2013, Fidan’s aide Çayır called the IHH chairman, asking him to provide support for the Al-Rahman Legion (Faylaq Al-Rahman), an armed opposition group that has a base near the Turkish-Syrian border crossing at Cilvegözü (Bab al-Hawa). He says the group is running low on supplies and asks the IHH to replenish his stocks. On Aug. 16, 2013 Yıldırım let his handler at MIT know that a man was caught in Syria and confessed to important information. His man recorded everything in the video and wanted to send the footage to the intelligence service in Ankara. In a phone conversation that took place on May 13, 2013, Yıldırım tells Çayır about a militant who would come to Turkey to stage an attack on members of the Turkey-backed Syrian National Council (al-Majlis al-Watani), which is based in Istanbul. He says he picked up the intel from a reliable source.

In a phone call on July 11, 2013, Yıldırım talks about an operation that involves a border crossing by a group in Syria and tells Çayır that he has misgivings about the people selected for the operation and underlines that they may fail in their task. He says he would coordinate the action with the intelligence officers on the ground. He also shares that IHH teams identified villagers who possess a highly dangerous chemical substance that is used in refining oil.

In a wiretap dated March 23, 2013 IHH head Yıldırım and MIT official Çayır talk about how to finalize a prisoner swap in Syria where a female officer from the Syrian army was caught by rebels and handed over to the IHH in exchange for the release by the Bashar al-Assad government of a captive opposition fighter. According to the plan, the woman was supposed to be picked up in Aleppo by the IHH and handed over to MIT for transfer to Iran.

It is not just In Syria, by the way, that the IHH is involved in arms trafficking. A document revealed from the authenticated email communications of Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak also implicated the IHH in arming Libyan factions. The secret document tells the tale of how the owner of a bankrupt sea shipping and container company asked for compensation from the Turkish government for damage his ship sustained while transporting arms between Libyan ports at the order of Turkish authorities in 2011. The document revealed all the details of a Turkish government-approved arms shipment to rebels in a ship contracted by the IHH.

All this solid evidence confirms the IHH is not just a charity group but rather a shadowy contractor that does the secret bidding of Turkish intelligence agency MIT under orders from the Islamist government of President Erdogan. Since it has been active around the world including in Europe and Southeast Asia, IHH activities and its operatives must be closely monitored and its initiatives must be thwarted no matter how they innocent they seem to be.

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