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.


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

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs