By Abdullah Bozkurt
It was hardly surprising to find out Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi (22), a British of Libyan origin, has footprints all over in Turkey before travelling back and forth from Syria as it was revealed by the German intelligence in an exclusive story by the Financial Times. That would add to a growing list of Jihadists who were in Turkey before coming back to terrorize European populations and to kill indiscriminately from Brussels to Paris, from Stockholm to St. Petersburg.
I have written extensively on how the regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan empowered Islamists in Libya by pouring arms and funds but also the ways in which he managed to recruit Libyan Jihadists to fight his dirty war in Turkey’s neighborhood by facilitating their travel. Against the background of what happened in the attack during a concert by the pop singer Ariana Grande at Manchester Arena that killed 22 and injured 64, perhaps we need to take another look on Turkish government role in Libya and movement of Libyan Jihadists through Turkish territory.
The confidential wiretap records maintained by the intelligence on Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) suspects in Turkey reveals that Libyan militants were intimately involved in the trafficking of jihadists with a political cover provided by Erdoğan’s government. One of the key ISIL operatives in Turkey is a man named Farag H. Hamad Ali, a 36-year old Libyan national who has connections to ISIL groups in Libya’s third largest city of Misrata. He was working with other Arab nationals to move fighters in and out of Syria using Turkey as a conduit, providing logistical supplies. The intel indicates he also set up an operation in Cyprus. Although Faraq was detained in Turkey on July 10, 2015, named as a suspect in an ISIL indictment filed by İstanbul prosecutor, he was later released.
The wiretap records show Farag worked closely with another ISIL trafficker and procurement person named Mohammed Elsayed Eltokhy Salim Elshiemy (aka Abdulhakem Mısırlı), a 26-year-old Colombia-born Egyptian national. Although both men were spotted by authorities while exchanging money and arrested, they were later let go after the backroom deals. For example, in a wiretap recorded on March 7, 2015 at 12:09 p.m., Elshiemy was shopping for night vision binoculars in İstanbul’s Karaköy district. He was told by Farag that a 50,000 euro transfer was made for him to purchase military-grade goggles. In another wiretap recorded on March 6, 2015 at 12:31 p.m., Elshiemy asked a man identified as Abu Davud to supply weapons for ISIL.
Elshiemy had also arranged for fraudulent passports and secured visas for ISIL sleeper agents who were sent to Europe to identify targets and scout the area. For example, in a wiretap dated Oct. 15, 2014 at 17:49 p.m., Elshiemy asked for a fraudulent Libyan passport to move a person illegally. They were securing official Turkish visa stamps by bribing Turkish authorities. The government in Turkey knew all about these networks but cracking down on them has never been a priority. Only after intense pressure from the NATO allies as well as Russia and China did Erdoğan government pretend to be cracking down on Jihadist militants, only to secure their release after quick roundups. In the meantime, however, the police, intelligence and courts have been busy in hunting down Erdoğan’s legitimate critics in Kurdish political movement, secular and leftist groups and the Gülen movement.
As a result, today’s Turkey has been transformed into a safe sanctuary for all sorts of radical groups including al-Qaeda and ISIL that use Turkish territory to raise recruits, funding, logistical supplies and arms. Turkish government has not only aided and abetted these groups in what is seen as Erdoğan’s personal and dirty war to oust Syrian president Bashar al-Assad from power but also threaten other neighbors, partners and even allies with these proxy groups.
In parallel to what Iran has done for decades, Turkish Islamists – who are greatly influenced by Iranian experiment during their youth years by the way- also turned to this clandestine policy of creating own proxies by investing in radical groups in Turkey and abroad. Just like Iran airlifted many militants of Islamic Courts Union (ICU), the godfather of the al-Shabaab militia, from Somalia to fight on its behalf during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War in exchange for $2,000 monthly payments to their families, Erdoğan and his henchmen offered $2,000 monthly salary for each Libyan fighter who joined ISIL and the al-Qaeda network. Contractors especially Erdoğan’s secret paramilitary force SADAT would get $10,000 commission for each fighter who signed up for the fight.
This deal was asked by a lawmaker in January 2015 in Parliament but then foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had not responded to it despite he was obligated to answer parliamentary questions within two weeks. In fact, then Libyan interim and internationally recognized government led by Abdullah al-Thinni filed repeated grievances with Turkish government on this issue, forwarded own intelligence reports that included names of Turkish national who had been involved in trafficking of Jihadists from Libya to Turkey. When it was unable to obtain a change of behavior in Erdoğan government, Libya decided to expel Turkish nationals on February 2015 as a protest to Turkish government’s position. According to Turkey’s main opposition party figures in 2015, some 50,000 Jihadists were sheltered in Turkey with most of them from Libya and Russia.
Two NGOs were used by Turkish government to run the recruitment line from Libya to Syria. One is İmkan-Der, an İstanbul-based NGO, believed to be aligned with al-Nusra front, Ahrar ash-Sham & Jaysh al-Islam. Murat Özer, the head of İmkan-Der, visited Libya and met Islamist groups there. It runs logistical support for Turkey-backed Sultan Murad Brigades that fights against Assad forces in the northern Syria. It has only one branch which is located at the border province Gaziantep from where it runs logistical lines to Syria. It set up a hospital in the same city to treat wounded Jihadists in addition to a make-shift hospital on the Syrian side of the border.
Russia asked the UN on Sept. 2013 to list İmkan-Der in UNSC 1267/1989 Sanctions Committee list as al-Qaeda supporter, but the motion was vetoed by the United States and opposed by Azerbaijan. In a letter submitted to the UN on 10 Feb.2016, Russia again named İmkan-Der as supporter of terror in Syria, claiming how Turkish government used İmkan-Der as a front to send weapons to Jihadists in Syria. It is amazing how İmkan-Der, a staunch supporter of Erdoğan government, has been able to secure the release of many detained Jihadists from Turkish jails by lobbying the government. When Turkish troops and opposition fighters took over Jarablus during Syria incursion, it was İmkan-Der that was called upon to transform the Syrian town.
Another NGO used by Turkish government to send arms to Libya is controversial charity group the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which is closely backed by Erdoğan. The document, revealed from the authenticated email communications of Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is now energy minister, came to light when the owner of a bankrupt sea shipping and container company asked for compensation from the Turkish government over damage his ship sustained while transporting arms between Libyan ports on the order of authorities in Ankara in 2011.
The letter revealed all the details of a Turkish government-approved arms shipment to rebels in a ship contracted by IHH. In a letter dated March 9, 2016, a UN Security Council panel of experts concluded that arms shipments to Libya have been going on mainly from Turkey. The UN experts traced weapons in Libya to Turkish companies and discovered that the Turkish government deliberately tried to mislead the investigation into a Turkish ship carrying arms destined for Libyan Islamist factions. The ship, the Haddad 1, registered in Bolivia, was seized in September 2015 by the Greek coast guard while transporting a concealed arms shipment from Turkey to Libya.
The Turkish President’s secret paramilitary force called SADAT led by a retired Islamist general, Lt. Gen. Adnan Tanrıverdi who is also the chief military aide to Erdoğan, has been involved in clandestine training of Libyan militants for some time. This man has visited Libya many times, meeting with renegade Libyan officers and receiving red carpet treatment during each visit by the Turkish Embassy in Tripoli.
Some of these rebels were later transported from Libya to Turkey to join Erdoğan’s clandestine army to fight against his enemies. Tanrıverdi played a key role in purging pro-NATO officers from Turkish military following what appears to be a false flag coup bid that helped Erdoğan set up his critics and opponents in the government for mass purges. The dismissed officers were replaced by Islamists and neo-nationalists.
May 26, 2017