COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK
INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Research Paper: IS-Turkey Links
By David L. Phillips
Is Turkey collaborating with IS (Islamic State)? Allegations range from military cooperation and weapons transfers to logistical support, financial assistance, and the provision of medical services. It is also alleged that Turkey turned a blind eye to IS attacks against Kobani.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu strongly deny complicity with IS. Erdogan visited the Council on Foreign Relations on September 22, 2014. He criticized “smear campaigns [and] attempts to distort perception about us.” Erdogan decried, “A systematic attack on Turkey’s international reputation,” complaining that “Turkey has been subject to very unjust and ill-intentioned news items from media organizations.” Erdogan posited: “My request from our friends in the United States is to make your assessment about Turkey by basing your information on objective sources.”
Columbia University’s Program on Peace-building and Rights assigned a team of researchers in the USA, Europe, and Turkey to examine Turkish and international media, assessing the credibility of allegations. This report draws on a variety of international sources — The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, BBC, Sky News, as well as Turkish sources, CNN Turk, Hurriyet Daily News, Taraf, Cumhuriyet, and Radikal among others.
Turkey Provides Military Equipment to IS
• An IS commander told The Washington Post on August 12, 2014: “Most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies.”
• Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), produced a statement from the Adana Office of the Prosecutor on October 14, 2014 maintaining that Turkey supplied weapons to terror groups. He also produced interview transcripts from truck drivers who delivered weapons to the groups. According to Kiliçdaroglu, the Turkish government claims the trucks were for humanitarian aid to the Turkmen, but the Turkmen said no humanitarian aid was delivered.
• According to CHP Vice President Bulent Tezcan, three trucks were stopped in Adana for inspection on January 19, 2014. The trucks were loaded with weapons in Esenboga Airport in Ankara. The drivers drove the trucks to the border, where a MIT agent was supposed to take over and drive the trucks to Syria to deliver materials to IS and groups in Syria. This happened many times. When the trucks were stopped, MIT agents tried to keep the inspectors from looking inside the crates. The inspectors found rockets, arms, and ammunitions.
• Cumhuriyet reports that Fuat Avni, a preeminent Twitter user who reported on the December 17th corruption probe, that audio tapes confirm that Turkey provided financial and military aid to terrorist groups associated with Al Qaeda on October 12, 2014. On the tapes, Erdogan pressured the Turkish Armed Forces to go to war with Syria. Erdogan demanded that Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT), come up with a justification for attacking Syria.
• Hakan Fidan told Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Yasar Guler, a senior defense official, and Feridun Sinirlioglu, a senior foreign affairs official: “If need be, I’ll send 4 men into Syria. I’ll formulate a reason to go to war by shooting 8 rockets into Turkey; I’ll have them attack the Tomb of Suleiman Shah.”
• Documents surfaced on September 19th, 2014 showing that the Saudi Emir Bender Bin Sultan financed the transportation of arms to IS through Turkey. A flight leaving Germany dropped off arms in the Etimesgut airport in Turkey, which was then split into three containers, two of which were given to IS and one to Gaza.
Turkey Provided Transport and Logistical Assistance to IS Fighters
• According to Radikal on June 13, 2014, Interior Minister Muammar Guler signed a directive: “According to our regional gains, we will help al-Nusra militants against the branch of PKK terrorist organization, the PYD, within our borders…Hatay is a strategic location for the mujahideen crossing from within our borders to Syria. Logistical support for Islamist groups will be increased, and their training, hospital care, and safe passage will mostly take place in Hatay…MIT and the Religious Affairs Directorate will coordinate the placement of fighters in public accommodations.”
• The Daily Mail reported on August 25, 2014 that many foreign militants joined IS in Syria and Iraq after traveling through Turkey, but Turkey did not try to stop them. This article describes how foreign militants, especially from the UK, go to Syria and Iraq through the Turkish border. They call the border the “Gateway to Jihad.” Turkish army soldiers either turn a blind eye and let them pass, or the jihadists pay the border guards as little as $10 to facilitate their crossing.
• Britain’s Sky News obtained documents showing that the Turkish government has stamped passports of foreign militants seeking to cross the Turkey border into Syria to join IS.
• The BBC interviewed villagers, who claim that buses travel at night, carrying jihadists to fight Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, not the Syrian Armed Forces.
• A senior Egyptian official indicated on October 9, 2014 that Turkish intelligence is passing satellite imagery and other data to IS.
Turkey Provided Training to IS Fighters
• CNN Turk reported on July 29, 2014 that in the heart of Istanbul, places like Duzce and Adapazari, have become gathering spots for terrorists. There are religious orders where IS militants are trained. Some of these training videos are posted on the Turkish IS propaganda website takvahaber.net. According to CNN Turk, Turkish security forces could have stopped these developments if they had wanted to.
• Turks who joined an affiliate of IS were recorded at a public gathering in Istanbul, which took place on July 28, 2014.
• A video shows an IS affiliate holding a prayer/gathering in Omerli, a district of Istanbul. In response to the video, CHP Vice President, MP Tanrikulu submitted parliamentary questions to the Minister of the Interior, Efkan Ala, asking questions such as, “Is it true that a camp or camps have been allocated to an affiliate of IS in Istanbul? What is this affiliate? Who is it made up of? Is the rumor true that the same area allocated for the camp is also used for military exercises?”
• Kemal Kiliçdaroglu warned the AKP government not to provide money and training to terror groups on October 14, 2014. He said, “It isn’t right for armed groups to be trained on Turkish soil. You bring foreign fighters to Turkey, put money in their pockets, guns in their hands, and you ask them to kill Muslims in Syria. We told them to stop helping IS. Ahmet Davutoglu asked us to show proof. Everyone knows that they’re helping IS.” (See HERE and HERE.)
• According to Jordanian intelligence, Turkey trained IS militants for special operations.
Turkey Offers Medical Care to IS Fighters
• An IS commander told the Washington Post on August 12, 2014, “We used to have some fighters — even high-level members of the Islamic State — getting treated in Turkish hospitals.”
• Taraf reported on October 12, 2014 that Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, a founder of the AKP, said that Turkey supported terrorist groups and still supports them and treats them in hospitals. “In order to weaken the developments in Rojova (Syrian Kurdistan), the government gave concessions and arms to extreme religious groups…the government was helping the wounded. The Minister of Health said something such as, it’s a human obligation to care for the IS wounded.”
• According to Taraf, Ahmet El H, one of the top commanders at IS and Al Baghdadi’s right hand man, was treated at a hospital in Sanliurfa, Turkey, along with other IS militants. The Turkish state paid for their treatment. According to Taraf’s sources, IS militants are being treated in hospitals all across southeastern Turkey. More and more militants have been coming in to be treated since the start of airstrikes in August. To be more specific, eight IS militants were transported through the Sanliurfa border crossing; these are their names: “Mustafa A., Yusuf El R., Mustafa H., Halil El M., Muhammet El H., Ahmet El S., Hasan H., [and] Salim El D.”
Turkey Supports IS Financially Through Purchase of Oil
• On September 13, 2014, The New York Times reported on the Obama administration’s efforts to pressure Turkey to crack down on IS extensive sales network for oil. James Phillips, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, argues that Turkey has not fully cracked down on IS’s sales network because it benefits from a lower price for oil, and that there might even be Turks and government officials who benefit from the trade.
• Fehim Taştekin wrote in Radikal on September 13, 2014 about illegal pipelines transporting oil from Syria to nearby border towns in Turkey. The oil is sold for as little as 1.25 liras per liter. Taştekin indicated that many of these illegal pipelines were dismantled after operating for 3 years, once his article was published.
• On October 14, 2014, a German Parliamentarian from the Green Party accused Turkey of allowing the transportation of arms to IS over its territory, as well as the sale of oil.
Turkey Assists IS Recruitment
• Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu claimed on October 14, 2014 that IS offices in Istanbul and Gaziantep are used to recruit fighters. On October 10, 2014, the mufti of Konya said that 100 people from Konya joined IS 4 days ago. (See HERE and HERE.)
• OdaTV reports that Takva Haber serves as a propaganda outlet for IS to recruit Turkish-speaking individuals in Turkey and Germany. The address where this propaganda website is registered corresponds to the address of a school called Irfan Koleji, which was established by Ilim Yayma Vakfi, a foundation that was created by Erdogan and Davutoglu, among others. It is thus claimed that the propaganda site is operated from the school of the foundation started by AKP members.
• Minister of Sports, Suat Kilic, an AKP member, visited Salafi jihadists who are IS supporters in Germany. The group is known for reaching out to supporters via free Quran distributions and raising funds to sponsor suicide attacks in Syria and Iraq by raising money.
• OdaTV released a video allegedly showing IS militants riding a bus in Istanbul.
Turkish Forces Are Fighting Alongside IS
• On October 7, 2014, IBDA-C, a militant Islamic organization in Turkey, pledged support to IS. A Turkish friend who is a commander in IS suggests that Turkey is “involved in all of this” and that “10,000 IS members will come to Turkey.” A Huda-Par member at the meeting claims that officials criticize IS but in fact sympathize with the group (Huda-Par, the “Free Cause Party”, is a Kurdish Sunni fundamentalist political party). BBP member claims that National Action Party (MHP) officials are close to embracing IS. In the meeting, it is asserted that IS militants come to Turkey frequently to rest, as though they are taking a break from military service. They claim that Turkey will experience an Islamic revolution, and Turks should be ready for jihad. (See HERE and HERE.)
• Seymour Hersh maintains in the London Review of Books that IS conducted sarin attacks in Syria, and that Turkey was informed. “For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbors, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.”
• On September 20, 2014, Demir Celik, a Member of Parliament with the people’s democratic party (HDP) claimed that Turkish Special Forces fight with IS.
Turkey Helped IS in Battle for Kobani
• Anwar Moslem, Mayor of Kobani, said on September 19, 2014: “Based on the intelligence we got two days before the breakout of the current war, trains full of forces and ammunition, which were passing by north of Kobane, had an-hour-and-ten-to-twenty-minute-long stops in these villages: Salib Qaran, Gire Sor, Moshrefat Ezzo. There are evidences, witnesses, and videos about this. Why is IS strong only in Kobane’s east? Why is it not strong either in its south or west? Since these trains stopped in villages located in the east of Kobane, we guess they had brought ammunition and additional force for the IS.” In the second article on September 30, 2014, a CHP delegation visited Kobane, where locals claimed that everything from the clothes IS militants wear to their guns comes from Turkey. (See HERE and HERE.)
• Released by Nuhaber, a video shows Turkish military convoys carrying tanks and ammunition moving freely under IS flags in the Cerablus region and Karkamis border crossing (September 25, 2014). There are writings in Turkish on the trucks.
• Salih Muslim, PYD head, claims that 120 militants crossed into Syria from Turkey between October 20th and 24th, 2014.
• According to an op-ed written by a YPG commander in The New York Times on October 29, 2014, Turkey allows IS militants and their equipment to pass freely over the border.
• Diken reported, “IS fighters crossed the border from Turkey into Syria, over the Turkish train tracks that delineate the border, in full view of Turkish soldiers. They were met there by PYD fighters and stopped.”
• A Kurdish commander in Kobani claims that IS militants have Turkish entry stamps on their passports.
• Kurds trying to join the battle in Kobani are turned away by Turkish police at the Turkey-Syrian border.
• OdaTV released a photograph of a Turkish soldier befriending IS militants.
Turkey and IS Share a Worldview
• RT reports on Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks detailing Turkish support to IS.
• According to the Hurriyet Daily News on September 26, 2014, “The feelings of the AKP’s heavyweights are not limited to Ankara. I was shocked to hear words of admiration for IS from some high-level civil servants even in Şanliurfa. ‘They are like us, fighting against seven great powers in the War of Independence,’ one said.” “Rather than the [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK on the other side, I would rather have IS as a neighbor,” said another.”
• Cengiz Candar, a well-respected Turkish journalist, maintained that MIT helped “midwife” the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, as well as other Jihadi groups.
• An AKP council member posted on his Facebook page: “Thankfully IS exists… May you never run out of ammunition…”
• A Turkish Social Security Institution supervisor uses the IS logo in internal correspondences.
• Bilal Erdogan and Turkish officials meet alleged IS fighters.
Update by editor:
Italian police in the northern city of Trieste has seized 781 shotguns en route from Turkey to Belgium. The firearms were found packed in individual boxes aboard a Dutch-registered truck that arrived on a ferry in the port city.
Although customs rules were not broken, the Turkish driver did not have licenses for the weapons, police said. The seized weapons were pump-action Winchester SXP shotguns, calibre 12-51 and 12-47. According to Ansa news agency, the Turkish manufacturer of the weapons was cited for breaching national security regulations.
Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dundar and the daily’s Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gul were arrested Nov. 26 on charges of espionage and being a member of an armed terrorist organization, based on reports in Cumhuriyet regarding Syrian-bound trucks sent by MIT (National Intelligence Agency).
The armed organization mentioned by the prosecutors refers to FETO (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization), a term used by prosecutors to define the followers of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Islamic scholar.
Footage released by Cumhuriyet on May 29 reportedly showed gendarmerie and police officers opening crates on the back of trucks which contained what the daily described as weapons and ammunition sent to Syria by MIT in January 2014.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan filed an individual criminal complaint against Dundar and Cumhuriyet on June 2, claiming that the story “included some footage and information that are not factual” while saying the person “who wrote the story will pay a heavy price.”
The criminal complaint, which was filed to the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office to be sent to Istanbul where Cumhuriyet is based, argued that the newspaper “participated in the actions” of the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan’s erstwhile ally, whose followers are accused of infiltrating the police, the judiciary and the bureaucracy.
“By publishing fabricated footage and information that were leaked to him by the parallel organization, [Dundar] participated in the actions of the organization’s members who searched the trucks and plotted with fabricated evidence to create a perception … that the Republic of Turkey as helping terrorist organizations,” the complaint said.
Erdogan said on November 24 that whether or not the trucks carried weapons was irrelevant and claimed that the trucks were set to deliver humanitarian aid to Bayirbucak Turkmens.