A new report out of London has revealed that since late 2011, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan illegally sent thousands of trucks loaded with heavy arms and ammunition, via air freight, to support jihadist groups fighting against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an attempt to overthrow his regime.
The Investigative Journal (TIJ), through its review of hundreds of secret wiretap records acquired from confidential sources in Ankara and interviews with sources in the country, has uncovered how Erdogan’s Islamic government directly and indirectly armed radical Islamic militant groups in Syria. The report was created by Mr. Abdullah Bozkurt, president of the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), director of the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network, and the author of Turkey Interrupted: Derailing Democracy.
Bozkurt’s report found that through the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, or MİT in Turkish), Erdogan enabled and even personally facilitated both the movement of foreign and Turkish militants across the Turkish border into Syria and arms so they could fight alongside Islamic State jihadists against Assad.
The report underlines Turkey’s alarming transformation from a secular and parliamentary democracy, under the leadership of Erdogan’s predecessor Ataturk, into an Islamist regime which has its hand in fanning the flames of some of the most violent movements in the Middle East under Erdogan’s leadership.
“Bringing arms and explosives to Turkey without first clearing and registering at customs, and without a duly authorized license, is a crime punishable under Turkish law,” TIJ notes. “The strict rules also apply to exports, which require prior authorization from authorities under the Turkish General Staff and Foreign Ministry in advance of any formal authorization.”
As of 2014, there are reportedly 2,000 trucks full of heavy weaponry that were shipped from Turkey to Syria by jihadist groups, and with the assistance of some members of Turkish law enforcement and higher-ups in the military. Bozkurt said several of his sources revealed that these shipments were made several times a week.
According to one of the sources who worked for a security establishment in Turkey and was on assignment at the Esenboğa Airport – where the illegal transactions took place — at the time of the shipments, the arms were sent to Jabhat al-Nusra, known as al-Qaeda in Syria. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their identity due to the lack of press freedom under Erdogan, said “The employees who were working for Turkish Ground Services (TGS) and Havaş for the ground- handling operations at that section of the airport were told this was done in the interest of Turkey’s national security and in line with its laws.”
The source reportedly also said that Mehmet Kılıçlar, the head of Turkey’s national police, and Alaaddin Yüksel, the governor of Ankara, were both aware of these illegal operations.
Murat Çetiner, a security specialist who has worked for the United Nations and is currently listed as an independent expert with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), reportedly also confirmed what the source corroborated to TIJ; that the MIT had in fact been running illegal arms shipments to jihadists in Syria.
Qatar also played a significant role in Turkey’s terrorist operations. According to at least one source in the TIJ report, “The operation that often saw Qatari planes landing with arms in their cargo load was tightly run by the Turkish intelligence agency, MİT.”
It is possible Turkey’s Jihadist operations in Syria single-handedly contributed to the rise of the Islamic State in Assad’s war-torn nation.
“Clearly, if Erdogan had not backed and allowed IS members and other Jihadi terrorists to transport weapons and explosives from Turkey to Syria and Iraq openly, there would have been no IS or al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria today,” said Ahmet S. Yayla who is a professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies. Yayla previously served as a Turkish police officer.
Yayla noted that because much of the support for these IS terrorists happened in broad daylight, “the public perception towards the terrorist organizations involved dramatically changed. Those terrorists were legitimized in the eyes of the public.”
The in-depth and damning report by TIJ also revealed that the MİT provided thousands of Turkish passports to Chinese Uighur jihadists and then took them to Syria to fight against Assad’s military.
A man named Ilhami Bali played an integral role in the Islamic State smuggling operation. Bali, a 36-year-old Saudi-born Turkish national, is also known by the code name Ebu Bekir (Abu Bakr in Arabic). He would direct smuggling operations along the border, which reportedly included “picking up militants from airports and bus terminals in Turkey’s southeastern provinces and arranging meetings with smugglers to move ISIL aspirants across the border to Syria.”
Bali allegedly also played a role in Turkey’s deadliest suicide bomb attack, which took place on October 10, 2015, in its capital city, Ankara, which left over 100 civilians dead and over 500 injured. The Ankara bombing surpassed the 2013 Reyhanli bombings as the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Turkish history.
Despite a series of arrest warrants against him, Bali has not yet been apprehended by Turkish authorities and has been able to move freely in and out of Syria.
However, Bali’s activities provide a mere glimpse into the vast terrorist network Turkey has devised for its own nefarious ends. Intercepted communications and wiretaps reportedly revealed that in a single day, the Islamic State (ISIL) smuggles anywhere between 50-100 militants across the Turkish-Syrian border. It is estimated that over 15,000 militants are smuggled across the Turkish-Syrian border annually.
This includes crossing back over into Turkey for medical care. Because medical care is subpar in the conflict zone, which has been in the midst of an eight-year civil war, many of these ISIL militants cross back over into Turkey to receive medical care, the TIJ report found.
The in-depth piece also details how Turkish police purposely reneged on several opportunities to crack down on the ISIL network operating inside its country and on its borders. “We know what kind of business you guys are doing, but we’re not saying anything about it,” a Turkish police officer was recorded saying to smugglers.
It remains to be seen whether these revelations will pressure the international community to apply pressure on Turkey to curb its behavior.
Bozkurt predicts, “Perhaps the worst is yet to come, given the fact the government has been retooling public education in Turkey to reinforce the ideological underpinnings that nurture jihadist fervor in this predominantly Sunni nation of 80 million citizens.” He adds, “the government of President Erdoğan represents a dire threat not only to Turkey but also to its Middle Eastern and European neighborhood and beyond.”
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