Erdogan and the IHH
On January 14, Turkish counter-terrorism police raided the offices of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a leading Turkish charity, as part of a wider operation against operatives accused of links to Al Qaeda. One employee of the charity was detained and a large amount of electronic data was seized.
The IHH first rose to prominence when it sponsored the 2010 Gaza flotilla, in which nine armed Turkish activists were killed. Although the charity claims to be a humanitarian organisation solely concerned with the welfare of others, Israeli and Dutch authorities have accused the IHH of links to terrorism. In 2013, The Times reported that the IHH was involved in gun-running missions to Syria. This author has also previously noted the links between the IHH and extremist groups in Britain.
So what is the IHH and what do the Turkish police raids mean?
The IHH was founded in 1995, partly in response to the Bosnian conflict. According to the Wall Street Journal, a 1995 Bosnian intelligence report reveals that two men who directed the IHH’s Sarajevo office were graduates of the Bosnian Army’s 7th Muslim Brigade, which also “served as an umbrella for several hundred foreign Mujaheddin known at the time for their Islamist fervor.”
The CIA’s 1996 declassified report, International Islamic NGOs and Links to Terrorism, stated that the IHH was involved with extremist Islamist groups in Algeria and Iran. A 2006 report by the Danish Institute for International Studies also claimed the IHH recruited terrorists to fight in Bosnia and Chechnya.
Today, the IHH operates in 120 countries with an annual budget of around $100 million. The IHH, however, is a banned terror group under Dutch, German and Israeli law. The charity is a member of the Union of Good, a coalition of charities that manages the financial support required by Hamas for both its terrorist and political activities.
A leading French anti-terrorism magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, has claimed that the IHH officials were in contact with Al Qaeda members and that the that charity played an “important role” in an attempt to bomb the Los Angeles Airport.
On occasion, the IHH’s claims to be a solely humanitarian organization are shown to be nothing more than a façade: the IHH’s own website contains a tribute to Shamil Basayev, the Chechen terrorist responsible for the Beslan school siege, in which 350 people were murdered, including 186 children.
Just a few weeks before Turkish police raided the IHH offices, Turkish media reported that security forces also stopped a truck carrying weapons to Syrian rebels. The truck’s driver claimed to be working for the IHH, although the charity denied any involvement.
Many regard the IHH as an arm of Erdogan’s regime. IHH representatives refer to the charity’s work as an extension of Turkish foreign policy and senior Government officials have heaped praise on IHH officials. The IHH is so close to senior Government officials, in fact, that the Turkish media has dryly referred to the charity as a “GNCO” – a “governmental-non-governmental-organization.”
The writer and academic Andrew McCarthy has written:
“[The] IHH membership list reads like a Who’s Who in Erdogan’s AKP. [The AKP is the ruling Islamist “Justice and Development Party]. IHH’s former chairman, Eyup Fatsa, is an AKP member of Parliament, and is believed by Israeli intelligence to have forged the alliance between IHH and AKP in the late Nineties.”
Erdogan’s own son, in fact, is involved with the IHH. Why, then, given the close ties between the IHH and the AKP, is the IHH subject to such scrutiny from the Turkish security apparatus?
The recent series of attacks against the IHH, in fact, is part of a wider battle between the ruling Islamists and the Gülen movement, a powerful Islamic movement accused by one of Erdogan’s closest advisors of holding sway over sections of the Turkish police and judiciary. AKP official Yalcin Akdogan, writing in the Star Gazette in December 2013, claimed that those previously convicted by the Erdogan Government had, in fact, been framed.
Other commentators also blame the Gülen movement. Writing in Hurriyet Daily News, Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol observed:
In the social media, thousands commented that the raid was in fact orchestrated by the members of the Gülen Movement within the police. They believed that the IHH was “targeted” for its links with the government, which was again “targeted” by the movement in question for political reasons.
Erdogan’s Government has certainly sought to discourage police action against the IHH. Only a few hours after the most recent raids, two police unit chiefs who planned the operation were dismissed. IHH official Ugur Yildirim has claimed that the Justice Ministry ordered prosecutors to investigate the police officers responsible for the raids.
Similarly, following the discovery of IHH trucks carrying weapons to Syria, Turkish media reported that an AKP politician had ensured the security forces who stopped the truck were summarily removed from their positions. The AKP Deputy Prime Minister also condemned the courts for working on the assumption that the IHH was connected to terror groups.
Moreover, over the past month, Erdogan’s Government has sacked or reassigned almost 2000 police officials. AKP lawmakers are also drawing up legislation to give the Islamist regime tighter control over judicial appointments.
Those opposed to the Turkish Government perceive the IHH as a proxy of Erdogan’s ruling Islamist party. Likewise, the Government has regarded attacks on the IHH as the work of the Gülen movement.
Concerned observers have already expressed alarm at the Turkish Government’s tolerance for terror groups. Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri, for example, is presently working on Turkish soil with the tacit approval of the Erdogan regime.
Once the ruling AKP has fully purged the police and has effected the judicial changes it seeks, there will not be much to prevent the IHH from supplying and enabling terrorism, whether in Syria, Gaza or elsewhere.