News / Middle East

Turkey Acts Against Jihadists

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Jan. 14, 2014.
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Jan. 14, 2014.
Turkish authorities arrested two senior al-Qaida members and 28 other suspects this week in coordinated counter-terrorist raids in several provinces.  

Analysts say the action may herald a hardening of Turkey's policy towards jihadists. The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been criticized for months for not doing enough to stop them from transiting Turkey to fight in the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Among those netted in the raids, according to Turkish security officials, were İbrahim Şen, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, and Halis Bayancuk, said to be al-Qaida’s top representative in Turkey.

Three other high-ranking al-Qaida affiliated fighters fled into Syria before officers made the arrests, according to Turkish security officials.

Authorities also raided a branch of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH), a Turkish charity that at times has enjoyed close ties with the Erdoğan government and is Turkey’s largest supplier of humanitarian aid to Syrians. Accusations of jihadist links have swirled around IHH for several years. In 2010, Germany banned a branch of the charity for links to jihadists.

Tuesday, the charity’s vice president said the raid was “part of a dirty plot.”

Huseyin Oruc denied any ties to al-Qaida and said in a statement: “IHH aid is delivered to Syrian babies, children and those who freeze in the cold. This is an operation to change perceptions (about IHH) and stop aid from being delivered inside Syria.”

On January 1, Turkish security forces seized an IHH aid truck in Hatay province headed for Syria. The truck was found to be loaded with weapons and ammunition. IHH denied any involvement in arms trafficking.

Deportations

The counter-terror raids came just weeks after foreign ministry officials said Turkey had been deporting European nationals linked to radical Islamist groups. According to a report shared with Western embassies in Ankara, more than 1,000 European jihadists linked to groups fighting the Syrian government were deported last year.

Some analysts argue the deportation figure was exaggerated to quell Western fears about the rise of al-Qaida affiliates among rebel ranks in northern Syria.

"There's no actual evidence or other corroboration" of the deportations, said Aaron Zelin, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a U.S.-based think tank.

Erdoğan’s government has been highly supportive of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and critical of U.S. and European powers for their lack of intervention. He has pushed for a no-fly zone to be established by the West to protect rebel-held areas in northern Syria.

Western pressure

Erdoğan also has allowed rebels to use Turkey as a lifeline for arms and supplies. In recent months, though, Ankara has come under mounting diplomatic pressure from its Western allies, especially Washington, over radical Islamist groups using Turkey as a base to fight in Syria. Anxiety has mounted in European capitals about a possible blowback from jihadists returning to their home countries.

The head of Britain’s foreign intelligence arm MI6, John Sawers, told a British parliamentary panel in December that 300 young British Muslims had gone off to join jihadist groups to fight in Syria.

“They are likely to acquire expertise and experience which could significantly increase the threat posed when they return home,” he warned.

Belgium’s Interior Minister told reporters at a recent security summit in Brussels that about 2,000 Europeans so far have fought in Syria.

Kurdish allegations

While Western diplomats in Turkey privately acknowledge their governments’ frustrations with the lack of Turkish action against jihadists, Kurdish separatist leaders in Syria have gone further. They allege the Erdoğan government has used al-Qaida affiliates as proxies to curtail them in Syria, fearful of Kurdish separatist sentiment growing in Turkey. Jihadists and Syrian Kurds have been engaged in heavy fighting in recent months in competition for control of Syrian territory.

In an interview with VOA in November, Salih Muslim, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party [PYD] - an offshoot of the PKK, a separatist Kurdish group in Turkey - alleged that Ankara had not done enough to combat jihadists using Turkey as a logistical base and had in effect colluded with them by allowing jihadists safe passage.

“They were supporting them directly. They were sending them weapons and taking their wounded from fighting with us to hospitals," he said. "Recently, after pressure from Western countries, the Turks have been more secretive about their assistance.”

Turkish denials

Turkish leaders have long denied aiding jihadist elements fighting the Syrian government. In a spat with reporters during a November visit to Sweden, Erdoğan denied there were any foreign jihadists in Turkey and angrily demanded that journalists offer proof.

“It is out of question that organizations like al-Qaida or al-Nusra could take shelter in our country. This is slander and lies,” Erdoğan said.

His foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has been equally assertive in countering allegations of lack of action, collusion or facilitation, arguing that Western countries are not being cooperative enough in providing names of suspected jihadists traveling to Turkey.

In an interview with Al Monitor news site, Davutoglu said, “On what basis should we stop them? Turkey is receiving 34 million tourists. Should we say, ‘You have a beard, you may be a terrorist'?”

Despite Tuesday's raids, some analysts remain skeptical of the Erdoğan government’s commitment to countering jihadists.

Lisa Lundquist, an analyst with the Washington D.C.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, questions the government’s willingness to keep the pressure on.

“Whether today’s raids constitute a genuine effort to stem the flow of jihadist fighters and weaponry into Syria from Turkey, or are simply attempts to deflect attention from claims that Turkey is turning a blind eye to jihadists, remains to be seen,” she said.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs