During the NATO Summit in London on December 10, 2019, President Emmanuel Macron accused Turkey of “sometimes working with ISIS proxies”1 and said that it was, “time for Turkey to clarify (its) ambiguous stance on Islamic State.”2

It was about time someone called out Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his tacit support3 to ISIS. As a matter of fact, ISIS would not have swelled to power or killed so many if the Erdogan regime had not decided to support it directly or indirectly from its emergence in 2014.

The fact is, when ISIS set up shop in Raqqa in 2014, the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) was guarding its front door and putting out an elaborate welcome mat for jihadist volunteers on their way to martyrdom. 

Turkey was a central hub for the travel of over 50,0004 ISIS foreign fighters, and the main source of ISIS logistical materials, including the majority5 of ISIS IEDs, making Turkey and ISIS practically allies.6

Turkey could have easily sealed its borders, preventing the transfer of ISIS foreign fighters or the passage of logistical support. On the contrary, then-Prime Minister Erdogan, from the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011, either turned the other way or used direct proxies to assist the terrorist organization. I personally witnessed the policies of the Erdogan Government between 2010 and 2013 as the chief of counterterrorism and operations and between 2013 and 2014 as the chief of public order and criminal investigations in Sanliurfa, Turkey, a city of 2 million which has been considered the endpoint of ISIS “jihadi highway,”7 I had to leave the police in 2014 and retire in order not to be involved with Erdogan’s atrocities, which rise to the level of crimes against humanity.

Crimes against humanity8 are defined as “a deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign, that causes human suffering or death on a large scale.”9 In the end, ISIS would not have killed, wounded, enslaved, and raped thousands of innocent people without the vast support it enjoyed through Turkey. Erdogan and his co-conspirators must be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for their crimes against humanity.

According to an October 2019 U.S. Department of State publication, “Turkey remains a transit point for foreign fighters looking to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which could help the terrorist group to reorganize and regain influence.”10 The U.S. Government further warned that ISIS “foreign fighters transiting through Turkey could help Islamic State to regenerate.”11 ISIS was able to relocate12 many of its high-profile and senior members to Turkey, where they ran the terrorist organization’s day-to-day operations.

The foreign fighters are chiefly gone now, but the evidence of Turkish help is pouring in. On December 3, 2019, terrorist kingpin Hamid Shakir Saba’ al-Badri — cousin of deceased Abu Bakir al-Baghdadi — was captured south of Kirkuk, Iraq,13 having returned from his safe haven in Turkey.14

A Turkish ISIS prisoner in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) custody told journalist Lindsey Snell15 about a giant safehouse ISIS maintained in Gaziantep, Turkey. The prisoner said, “there were so many foreigners there. So many different languages. They (Turkey) knew what we were there for.”16

Turkey’s dual role with regard to ISIS – pretending to fight it while underhandedly supporting it – included the unofficial state policy of advancing a political Islamist ideology17, thus spurring the radicalization of the Turkish public. The result was increased support of Salafi jihadist terrorist organizations. For example, 8% of Turks indicated that they have a favorable view of ISIS, according to a 2015 PEW18 research center survey. Similarly, Turkey’s Social Trends Survey reported that 9.3% of the respondents believed ISIS was not a terrorist organization, and 5.4% said they were supporting its actions.19

This historic ideological trend among Turks translated into significantly increased numbers of Turkish ISIS foreign fighters: up to 9,476 Turkish ISIS terrorists, according to a recent Combating Terrorism Center report20, making Turkey the highest contributor of ISIS foreign fighters.

ISIS simply would not have survived without the continued supplies delivered from Turkey, including boots, uniforms,21 vests, food, and, most importantly, explosives22 even before the surfacing of the Caliphate. Turkey had become the main supplier of the materials used by ISIS to produce its explosives. ISIS “has, first, a major acquisition network operating in Turkey and, second, a clear supply route from Turkey, through Syria, to Iraq,”23 according to the December 2016 report of Conflict Armament Research (CAR).24 CAR also revealed that “Turkey is the most important chokepoint for components used in the manufacture of IEDs”25 by the Islamic State. In fact, CAR reports documented that ISIS fighters “source most of the products used in the manufacture of weapons and ammunition from the Turkish domestic market.”26

Turkish journalist Tolga Tanis revealed how Turkish companies were exporting explosive materials to ISIS. Tanis quoted from the CAR report about a company director who wrote to a terrorist agent: “we can share the information you are asking with the MIT,” or “get in touch with the Turkish Government.”27

Tanis, apparently, crossed a red line with his article, and immediately after the article was published, he was fired28 and slapped with a libel investigation29 filed by President Erdogan.

On November 18, 2019, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated two Turkish brothers, Ahmet and Ismail Bayaltun, as Turkey-based “ISIS procurement agents”30 in addition to four ISIS-linked companies operating in Syria and Turkey. Bayaltun brothers were known for their role in supplying ISIS, specifically shipping 48 tons of aluminum paste to be used in ISIS IEDs.31 More importantly, the Bayaltun brothers had a close relationship with AKP chairman Mustafa Bayaltun in Sanliurfa, where their office is located.32

Turkey deliberately tasked the Turkish National Intelligence agency (MIT)33 to deal with the supplies of the Salafi jihadist terrorist organizations in addition to some NGOs such as the Humanitarian Relief Foundation34 (IHH). For example, the role of the Turkish National Intelligence (MIT) was made public through a traffic stop on the Adana highway when, on January 19, 2014, three trucks operated by the MIT were stopped by the police, who found military-grade weapons hidden underneath medicine boxes being transported to Syria.35

President Erdogan, beyond directly and indirectly supporting Salafi terrorist organizations, also purchased ISIS oil36 through a Turkish front company named Powertrans controlled by his son-in-law Berat Albayrak.37

Albayrak paid up to $3 million a day at the height of ISIS oil production.38 In fact, Erdogan passed a bill39 to grant the rights to transfer oil by tanker and contracted Powertrans without a public bid40 as the sole authorized company. In addition to purchasing the ISIS oil,41 Erdogan tasked his son, Bilal Albayrak, through his Maltese shipping company, the BMZ Group,42 to sell ISIS oil on the world market.43

Erdogan’s Turkey has consistently played a critical role in terrorist financing – long past the official fall of ISIS and through 2019 if not later.44 ISIS had hawala offices in Gaziantep and Istanbul. For example, on April 15, 2019, OFAC designated the Rawi Network45 for providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism through money services businesses that had offices in Turkey and other countries.

Similarly, just this past September, OFAC designated Saksouk Company for Exchange and Money Transfer, Al-Khalidi Exchange and several others which “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to, ISIS”46 and had offices in Turkey. 

According to OFAC, Al Khalidi Exchange “in al-Raqqah, Syria, and Gaziantep, Turkey were involved in ISIS’s transfer of funds from Iraq through al-Raqqah, Syria, to Gaziantep, Turkey, in support of ISIS.”47 Al-Khalidi was the most important financial transfer office in the region used to move money to fund ISIS-held areas. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars per day passed through the office in Sanliurfa, Turkey.”48

ISIS also maintained hawala offices in Turkey, as well. In April 2018, Istanbul police found over $1.3 million in cash and $2 million of other currency, gold, and silver used for hawala transactions along with weapons49 after being tipped by the U.S. In fact, ISIS maintained offices in Gaziantep,50 Turkey to broker slave trades and other financial activities located at business centers at the city center. Finally, ISIS Emni, the intelligence directorate of ISIS, is known for using Turkish banks and the Turkish post office to transfer funds to ISIS members around the world.51

Asma Fawzi Muhammad al-Qubaysi, one of the wives of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has apparently been held by Turkey as a guest since June 2, 2018.52 She was captured in Hatay, Turkey, along with other ten family members of al-Baghdadi. The world only learned about her presence in Turkey after the death of al-Baghdadi, when Turkey was criticized for not locating the slain ISIS leader’s compound so close to the Turkish border. The slain Caliph’s number one replacement, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, was killed by U.S. forces near Jarablus under the control of Turkey.53 Erdogan, after the death of the ISIS leader at a compound very close to the Turkish observation point, rushed into damage control saying, “‘We caught his wife, but we didn’t make a fuss about it. I am announcing this today for the first time,” while criticizing the United States for leading a “communications campaign” about Baghdadi’s slaying.”‘54

Turkey also has not been sincere about the investigation, prosecution, and arrest of ISIS members. The prison statistics are the best evidence of Turkey’s soft-on-ISIS approach. According to the Turkish Ministry of Justice, 1354 Turkish and non-Turkish ISIS terrorists were held in Turkish prisons as of February 2018 compared to more than 10,000 PKK members – and more than 50,000 people associated with the coup attempt.55

Similarly, ISIS-related cases with strong evidence against the suspects resulted in the release of the suspects. In June 2018 a Turkish court released one of the conspirators in the 2015 ISIS Ankara suicide attacks, which killed 109 and injured over 500 people .56 A Gaziantep court released 39 of its 60 ISIS suspects in June 2017, all of whom were involved in the 2015 Suruc and 2015 Ankara ISIS suicide attacks.57 This resulted in a public outcry. The ISIS emir of Diyarbakir was released twice from prison even though he had direct responsibilities in terrorist attacks.58 A reporter following the ISIS Diyarbakir case wrote an article headlined, “ISIS suspects were sentenced as if they were being rewarded.”59

Turkish President Erdogan and his co-conspirators have blood on their hands. Based on the well- documented, incontestable, and undeniable evidence exist, it is clear that Erdogan has been directly and indirectly supporting ISIS. 

Erdogan has been holding Europe as a hostage, blackmailing it with the release of the Syrian refugees. Likewise, Erdogan holds the NATO airbase at Incirlik hostage. 

But the emperor is naked, and we are all responsible if we don’t speak up.

References

  1. https://www.france24.com/en/20191203-france-s-macron-accuses-turkey-of-sometimes-working-with-is-group-proxies-at-nato-summit
  2. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nato-summit-macron-turkey/macron-says-time-for-turkey-to-clarify-ambiguous-stance-on-islamic-state-idUSKBN1Y71VE
  3. Ahmet S. Yayla (2019) Turkish ISIS and AQ Foreign Fighters: Reconciling the Numbers and Perception of the Terrorism Threat, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2019.1628613
  4. http://thesoufancenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Beyond-the-Caliphate-Foreign-Fighters-and-the-Threat-of-Returnees-TSC-Report-October-2017-v3.pdf
  5. Ahmet S Yayla, “ISIS in Turkey,” Per Concordiam Journal of European Security and Defense Issues, (October 2017): 8-2, http://perconcordiam.com/isis-in-turkey/
  6. https://www.newsweek.com/isis-and-turkey-cooperate-destroy-kurds-former-isis-member-reveals-turkish-282920
  7. https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/10/07/354288389/a-smuggler-explains-how-he-helped-fighters-along-jihadi-highway
  8. https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/crimes-against-humanity.shtml
  9. https://theconversation.com/preventing-crimes-against-humanity-in-the-us-98679
  10. https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Country-Reports-on-Terrorism-2018-FINAL.pdf
  11. Ibid.
  12. https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/02/15/erdogans-fatal-blind-spot/
  13. https://en.news-front.info/2019/12/04/deputy-of-the-killed-leader-of-the-islamic-state-captured-in-iraq/
  14. https://twitter.com/frzand/status/1201918304488771585?s=20
  15. https://www.facebook.com/lindseysnel/posts/10102688634167480
  16. http://www.cityofghosts.com/
  17. Ahmet S. Yayla (2019) Turkish ISIS and AQ Foreign Fighters: Reconciling the Numbers and Perception of the Terrorism Threat, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2019.1628613
  18. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/17/in-nations-with-significant-muslim-populations-much-disdain-for-isis/
  19. https://www.reuters.com/article/turkey-politics-survey-islamic-state-idUSL8N14W3PN20160112
  20. https://ctc.usma.edu/daesh-diaspora-challenges-posed-women-minors-fall-caliphate/
  21. http://www.diken.com.tr/suriyedeki-cihatci-gruplarin-uniformalari-antakyada-suriyeli-cocuklara-yaptiriliyor/
  22. Yayla, Ahmet. S., (2017). The Reina Nightclub Attack and the Islamic State Threat to Turkey. Combatting Terrorism Center at Westpoint, CTC Sentinel, Vol. 10, Issue 3. https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-reina-nightclub-attack-and-the-islamic-state-threat-to-turkey
  23. https://www.conflictarm.com/dispatches/standardisation-and-quality-control-in-islamic-states-military-production/
  24. http://www.conflictarm.com/about-us/
  25. https://www.conflictarm.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Tracing_The_Supply_of_Components_Used_in_Islamic_State_IEDs.pdf
  26. https://www.conflictarm.com/dispatches/standardisation-and-quality-control-in-islamic-states-military-production/
  27. http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/yazarlar/tolga-tanis/deasin-turk-mali-potasyum-nitratlari-40310131
  28. http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/658236/hurriyet-gazetesi-tolga-tanisi-gorevden-aldi.html
  29. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/22/us-based-turkish-journalist-faces-libel-investigation-for-book-on-obama-and-erdogan
  30. https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm831
  31. https://ahvalnews-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/ahvalnews.com/turkey-islamic-state/turkey-becoming-haven-terrorist-financing?amp
  32. https://ahvalnews.com/tr/guncel/akpden-abdnin-isid-yaptirimi-karari-aldigi-sirkete-ziyaretli-destek
  33. Ahmet S Yayla, “The so-called Islamic State and the (slow but steady) Radicalisation of Turkey,” Deutschen Orient-Institut. Vol. III /2017, 58.
  34. Ahmet S Yayla, “IHH: The Nonprofit Face of Jihadism. An In-Depth Review,” The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), 2019, https://www.ict.org.il/Article/2397/IHH#gsc.tab=0
  35. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-turkey-arms/exclusive-turkish-intelligence-helped-ship-arms-to-syrian-islamist-rebel-areas-idUSKBN0O61L220150521
  36. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVZHhfodn_I&feature=youtu.be
  37. Ahmet S Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil,” World Policy Magazine, October 17, 2016, https://worldpolicy.org/2016/10/17/hacked-emails-link-turkish-minister-to-illicit-oil/
  38. Ibid.
  39. http://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2011/11/20111111-1.htm
  40. http://www.dogankitap.com.tr/kitap/POTUS+ve+Beyefendi-1991
  41. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-israel-turkey/islamic-state-enjoyed-turkish-money-for-oil-israeli-minister-idUSKCN0V421N
  42. https://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2015-12-13/local-news/Maltese-ships-owned-by-Turkish-president-s-son-being-implicated-in-ISIS-oil-trade-6736150377
  43. https://www.mintpressnews.com/211910-2/211910/
  44. https://ahvalnews-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/ahvalnews.com/turkey-islamic-state/turkey-becoming-haven-terrorist-financing?amp
  45. https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm657
  46. https://home.treasury.gov/news/featured-stories/treasury-targets-wide-range-of-terrorists-and-their-supporters-using-enhanced-counterterrorism-sanctions-authorities-0
  47. https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm772
  48. Ibid.
  49. https://www.sozcu.com.tr/2018/gundem/isid-uyelerine-bocek-arama-cihazi-gonderen-hucreye-tem-darbesi-2328748/
  50. Ahmet S. Yayla., Speckhard, Anne, “ISIS Sex Slave Trade Brokered in Gaziantep, Turkey,” International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, April 12, 2016, http://www.icsve.org/brief‐reports/isis‐sex‐slave‐trade/
  51. Anne Speckhard, Ahmet S Yayla, “The ISIS Emni: The Origins and Inner Workings of ISIS’s Intelligence Apparatus,” Perspectives on Terrorism, Vol 11, No 1 (2017), http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/573/html
  52. https://www.dw.com/tr/dpa-ba%C4%9Fdadinin-e%C5%9Fi-2018de-hatayda-yakaland%C4%B1/a-51145531
  53. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/isil-spokesman-killed-north-syria-raid-sdf-official-191028071157076.html
  54. https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/2019/11/06/turkey-captures-al-baghdadis-wife-erdogan-says/
  55. https://www.trthaber.com/haber/gundem/adalet-bakani-gul-tutuklu-ve-hukumlu-sayisini-acikladi-350041.html
  56. https://ahvalnews.com/islamic-state/turkish-court-releases-2015-ankara-bombing-suspect
  57. https://www.birgun.net/haber-detay/antep-isid-davasinda-tahliyeler-tepki-cekti-172220.html
  58. https://www.evrensel.net/haber/341889/isid-diyarbakir-emiri-dediler-2-kere-tahliye-ettiler
  59. https://www.evrensel.net/haber/344898/isid-saniklarina-odul-gibi-ceza-talebi
Ahmet S. Yayla
Ahmet S. Yayla

AHMET S. YAYLA is the Director of the Center for Homeland Security at DeSales University and an Assistant Professor of Homeland Security. Former counterterrorism and operations chief in the Turkish police, Dr. Yayla is also a member of the faculty at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies Program in Master's in Applied Intelligence. Additionally, Dr. Yayla is a research fellow at the George Washington University Program on Extremism. Dr. Yayla is a 20-year veteran of the counterterrorism and operations department in the Turkish National Police and served as the chief of counterterrorism in Sanliurfa, Turkey between 2010 and 2013. He earned his Master's Degree and Ph.D. in the United States. Dr. Yayla has published both scholarly works and written or co-written numerous articles related to counterterrorism and homeland security. Yayla is the co-author of the recent book ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate.

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