COMMENTARY — How Turkey’s intel aided al-Qaeda in Syria: The case of Şen brothers

By Abdullah Bozkurt

Turkey’s notorious intelligence agency MİT has been involved in arming, funding and providing logistical support to all sorts of Jihadist groups in Syria, especially those affiliated with al-Qaeda, since the start of the conflict in 2011. It has done all this with the personal approval of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then as a Prime Minister and later as the President.

Al-Qaeda set up a camp in Syria 150 meters away from Turkish border.

When the nation’s main law enforcement agency National Police had uncovered this clandestine network running illegally by the intel operatives, Erdoğan brought down the whole police department on its head, reshuffled judges and prosecutors who investigated radical Islamist groups in order to hush-up the major probes that exposed him to criminal liability under the Turkish laws as well as the UN sanctions on armed radical groups. The famous incident of interception of arms-laden Syria-bound trucks that took place on January 2014 on Turkish-Syrian border and that was escorted by the intelligence agency operatives, is not the only smoking gun showed Erdoğan and his government’s complicity.

There was yet another investigation that had been pursued by the police in the Eastern province of Van since 2012 that led to a sweeping arrests of al-Qaeda militants in January 2014. During the surveillance period, Turkish investigators discovered revelations by a top al-Qaeda operative indicating how Turkish intelligence involved in arming, funding and aiding al-Qaeda groups in Syria. The police were keeping a tab on a man named İbrahim Şen (37), a convicted al-Qaeda terrorist who was running a recruitment, and trafficking drive between Turkey and Syria. Van is a province best known to be a crossing point for al-Qaeda militants travelling among Jihadist regions from Afghanistan, Pakistan to Iraq and Syria. Şen was already convicted on terror charges and indicted on a separate investigation but Turkey’s leaders punished by arresting judges, prosecutors and police chiefs who are all involved in probing this guy who were let go free.

Al-Qaeda cell led by İbrahim Şahin in Turkey’s Van province.

Şen proved to be an aspirant young militant when he enlisted to help Chechen fighters in Caucasus and Chechnya against Russia in 1999. He traveled Afghanistan a year later to get training in religious Madrasah. When he crossed into Pakistan, Şen was arrested by Pakistani security in the fall of 2001 and handed over to Americans for being suspected al-Qaeda terrorist. He was jailed in Bagram Prison and later transferred to Guantanamo on February 15, 2002 under the name listed as Ibrahim Shafir Shen in the US Department of Defense file. Americans eventually decided to turn him over to Turkey in 2005 after the assessment that the information obtained from Şen is not “valuable or tactically exploitable” based on the available data at the time.

That assessment proved to be not quite accurate judging from the track record of Şen after he returned to Turkey. He continued his militant activities in a shell NGO called Humanitarian Aid Association (İnsani Yardım Derneği or İHADER in Turkish). He was trying to fill the leadership vacuum in al-Qaeda Turkish branch when Habip Akdaş, the mastermind of 2003 al-Qaeda attacks, was reportedly killed in Iraq by the US forces on September 2004. Akdaş set up Turkey affiliate for al-Qaeda and orchestrated the attack on the Beth Israel and Neve Shalom synagogues in İstanbul with suicide truck bombings, killing 26 Turkish citizens and injuring 303, on Nov. 15, 2003. Five days later, al-Qaeda also bombed the British Consulate General and a British HSBC bank in İstanbul, killing 14 and wounding 192.

Turkish police surveiled al-Qaeda operative İbrahim Şen.

Şen was detained in a sweeping al-Qaeda raids that rounded up dozens on January 4, 2008 and formally arrested on January 8 by the Van No.3 High Criminal Court. He was sentenced to 4 years 7 month in 2012 and the verdict was upheld by ninth chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals on January 2015. He had served close to two years before he got released in 2010 with a foreign travel ban.

The chief public prosecutor in Van launched a fresh probe into this man and his network with a case file 2012/1361, indicating the probe began in 2012, a year after the Syrian crisis took off. He was a convicted felon yet he was freely operating in Turkey running Jihadist highway under the protection provided by the political Islamist regime led by Erdoğan. As the police uncovered substantial body of evidence on his illegal activities on behalf of al-Qaeda groups, Şen was rearrested on January 14, 2014. He was indicted on July 2014 but was released during the second hearing of the trial on October, 2014, after the government intervention that dismissed all prosecutors, judges and police chiefs involved in his investigation and prosecution.

The investigation file against him was a solid one. His communications were wiretapped by the court authorizations and he had also been surveiled physically by technical teams of the police department as he moved around across various provinces. In one of the wiretaps, Şen was intercepted as saying that “without a Turkish intelligence, no opposition group can take a one step further,” in Syrian north. He emphasized that Turkish intelligence provided intel and arms to Jihadist groups, helped the militants cross into Syria from Turkish border, adding that no other country had given such a support to rebels. From the tape recordings, Şen appeared to have successfully managed in securing the release of a man named Mehmet Genç, believed to be a MİT agent, from a brief detention at the hands of a rival opposition group. He threatened them with the cutting-off the aid provided by the Turkish intelligence.


The investigation file, a copy of which I obtained from my own sources, reveals shocking details such as how Şen managed to bring 100 people to Syria to fight under his command and how he obtained clearance from the top al-Qaeda command chain using his past networks when he was in Afghanistan. Şen also reconvened returning fighters who were trained in Syrian war.

The file indicates he had linked up with Lebanese radical Salafist cleric Ahmed al-Assir who fought in Syria and eventually captured by Lebanese authorities at the airport on August 2015.

He used non-governmental organizations to cover up his tracks as he was preaching al-Qaeda ideology to recruit new people, funneling aid and supplies to Jihadists groups in Syria. From wiretap records, police investigators were able to identify that Şen used a foundation called Ribat Eğitim Vakfı (Ribat Education Foundation) and its branch in central province Kayseri to raise funds for al-Qaeda, during the Eid al-Adha, the “Sacrifice Feast”, one of the most celebrated holidays and festive periods for Muslims. Ribat is headquartered in Turkey’s conservative bastion Konya, a province that is considered to be the stronghold for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Ribat has been receiving a generous support from the Turkish government in exchange for mobilizing its network in support of Erdoğan and the Islamist AKP government. It partnered with Turkey’s Red Crescent and worked on the field in Syria by sending what was advertised as aid delivery trucks. Ribat has also been active in several foreign countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and Balkans. Muzaffer Büyük, the chairman of the board of directors of Ribat, was invited to the Presidential Palace by Erdoğan who was photographed as shaking hands with him on June 27, 2016.


Şen also used controversial charity group International Humanitarian Relief (IHH), accused by Russia at the UN Security Council for smuggling arms to rebels in Syria. He tapped Kayseri and Kilis branches of the IHH to send funds, medical and household supplies to Jihadists in Syria. Investigators believe that Şen used these NGOs when he wanted to conceal illegal shipments in transporting to Jihadists and the conclusion was that these NGOs took part in this scheme deliberately and knowing well what they were into. Three people identified by the police as partners for Şen in smuggling goods to Syria are Ömer Faruk Aksebzeci (Works out of IHH Kayseri branch), Recep Çamdalı (member of the IHH in Kayseri branch), and İbrahim Halil İlgi (working out of Kilis IHH branch).

In his talk with Şen, Aksebzeci said he was concerned with the fall of Aleppo and tried to encourage al-Qaede leader to do something about it. Similarly, in a separate wiretap conversation between Şen and İlgi, the IHH guy was telling Şen that the governor at the border province banned pickup truck to transport goods, but ambulances or vehicles whose registration indicates as ambulance were allowed to cross the border. That was a setback for him because Şen used to send pickup trucks to Syria so that they can be mounted with machine guns in their flatbeds to be used by Jihadists as lethal machine in Syrian’s civil war.

Other NGOs used by Şen to run his operation are listed as follows: Yerküre Association (Yerküre Derneği in Turkish), Global Humanitarian Aid and Political Training Center (Küresel İnsani Yardım ve Siyasi Eğitim Merkezi or KİSEM in Turkish) and Friend’s Hand Association (Dost Eli  Derneği in Turkish).


Şen also enlisted his brother Abdülkadir Şen as an operative in al-Qaeda group, making him responsible for media, propaganda and outreach activities. For instance, the wiretap communication between the two indicated how they discussed about distributing Jihadist publications to Turkish fighters in Syria. In fact, when investigators intercepted a red truck near Öncüpınar border gate in Turkish border province Kilis on September 9, 2013, they found Salafist literature and Jihadist publications mentioned in the communication between the two brothers.

The wiretap communication kept by the police showed his brother Abdülkadir Şen traveled to Syria to join the fight, procured medical supplies and car parts to Jihadists and organized the shipment of these products in the border province Hatay. When his brother İbrahim faces problems in moving the shipments, Abdülkadir was the man whom he called in for a help, the evidence indicated. Abdülkadir also kept the network alive by attending the slain fighters’ funerals and offering condolences to their families in Turkey.

Jihadist publications moved to Syria by Şen al-Qaeda group

He had written extensively in several online sites praising the Jihadist ideology and even managed some of them as the chief editor. He organized regular meetings to recruit militants and distribute Jihadist literature. In a phone talk he had with a name identified only by his first name as Nevzat, Abdülkadir Şen was recorded as

Abdülkadir Şen was moving supplies to Syria via IHH logistics.

praising al-Qaeda and saying that al-Qaeda is no longer a terrorist organization but rather a people’s movement. In a physical surveillance on September 13, 2013, police captured the footages of him moving supplies on a truck with Syrian license plate from a depot in the town of Reyhanlı to IHH logistics center in the city.

Abdülkadir is currently employed as a research assistant at the government-run Alparslan University in Muş province and pursues a PhD degree at Marmara University in Istanbul. He stirred angry reaction when he posted on his Twitter account that called for the massacre of Alevis in Turkey as a response to what the Bashar al-Assad regime did in Aleppo on December 2016. He appeared on Turkey’s state-run TV network TRT to make comments on developments in the Middle East. On February 9, 2016, he posted Tweeter messages threatening Russia with blowing up metro stations.


The investigation file detailed some evidentiary documents seized from an al-Qaeda suspect named Leyla Çakır during the police operation in Adana province on February 2013. The video clips found in the digital materials that were seized in suspect’s home during the search revealed footages of Turkish men talking in a camp in Syria 150 meters from the Turkish border. In the conversation, they talked about how they will intend to conquer İstanbul and Turkey after they are done with Syria.

Despite all the incriminating evidence against Şen brothers and his associates, Erdoğan regime helped secure the release of these dangerous guys into the society so that they continue operating the Jihadist network. The judges, prosecutors and police chiefs who had done a valuable work in uncovering Şen’s network were punished with dismissals and even arrests as al-Qaeda ringleaders are allowed to roam freely.

April 12, 2017


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