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

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs