From the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales
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New evidence has emerged that the Turkish government under President Erdogan is covertly providing direct military, financial and logistical support to ISIS, even while claiming to fight the terror network.
The evidence comes in the form of testimony from an ISIS terrorist captured by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, widely recognised as the most effective force confronting ISIS on the ground.
The testimony has been reported by two Kurdish news agencies, the Syrian-Kurdish Harwar News Agency (ANHA) based in Rojava, and the Turkish-Kurdish Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firatê (Firat News Agency or ANF News). The latter’s head office is based in Amsterdam.
Websites of both news agencies are blocked in Turkey.
Interviews with the ISIS fighter, captured by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), reveal that Turkish military and security forces are facilitating ISIS operations within Syria, as well as ISIS terrorist attacks inside Turkey.
The new testimony corroborates similar claims made by other former and active ISIS members, as well as Western and Middle East intelligence sources.
Yet Turkey is a leading member of the NATO alliance. And while the Western members of NATO have gathered mounting intelligence confirming Turkey’s sponsorship of ISIS, they have refused to act on this intelligence.
The source, Savas Yildiz, was captured by the YPG during the ISIS attack on the Kurdish province of Gire Spi (Tel Abyad).
Blacked out in the Turkish and international press, Yildiz’s capture by the YPG is a significant counter-terrorist success.
A Turkish national who joined a jihadist group in Syria in 2014, Yildiz was the prime suspect in the twin bombings of the headquarters of one of the main opposition parties in Turkey, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). The bombings occured at HDP offices in Adana and Mersin in May 2015.
Yildiz went on to participate in a string of further terror strikes in Turkey. But he was also originally a prime suspect in the ISIS bombing in Istanbul in March 2016, which killed four and injured 39 civilians.
Turkish authorities at first assumed that Yildiz was the suicide bomber in that attack, but police quickly identified the actual bomber as Mehmet Ozturk.
Both Ozturk and Yildiz were known to Turkish security forces as ISIS operatives. The authorities had put out a dragnet for Yildiz in October 2015, believing he, Ozturk, and two other ISIS operatives — Haci Ali Durmaz and Yunus Durmaz — had re-entered Turkey from Syria to carry out terror attacks.
After the March 2016 bombing in Istanbul, Turkish police again released the names of Yildiz and his accomplices, describing them as three suspected ISIS terrorists planning further strikes inside Turkey.
But while Turkish police had been hunting Yildiz and his accomplices, they had been repeatedly thwarted by Turkish intelligence agencies. Turkish security sources said that Savas Yildiz had twice been previously arrested by Turkish authorities for his allegiance to ISIS, and was even on a terrorist watch list.
Similarly, Yildiz’s colleague, Mehmet Ozturk, had been “blacklisted” by Turkish intelligence as a “supporter of a terrorist group,” but had repeatedly been able to travel to and from Syria because he was not on the national judiciary informatics system (UYAP).
Yildiz had gone on to participate in the ISIS attack on Gire Spi, but was forced to surrender to YPG forces after he was left stranded under a collapsed building.
In an interview with ANHA, the confessed terrorist said that leading Turkish ISIS members move freely between Turkey and Syria because some of them are working for Turkish intelligence.
Border outposts would be routinely disbanded of Turkish security forces between particular arranged hours to allow groups of 20–30 ISIS fighters to pass through unhindered and undetected, Yildiz said:
“There is an agreement between Turkey and ISIS. Turkey supports ISIS because it poses a threat to Kurds and they can use it against them.”
He confirmed that the Turkish military had open lines of communication with ISIS as early as the terror group’s invasion of Mosul in Iraq in June 2014:
“… when Mosul was first captured, around 50 people were held captive in the Turkish consulate. They opened all roads for us because our guys had the captives. They gave us all kinds of freedom of movement. Those captives were exchanged with Turkey releasing 100 of our friends.”
According to Yildiz, Turkey’s primary goal in supporting ISIS is to use the group as a geopolitical bulwark against the rising political and military power of Kurdish groups:
“The Turkish state and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan supports us solely because they are against Kurds. It’s not because he’s affectionate towards us or anything. Because he has no relation to Islam. He wouldn’t support us for a day if we didn’t fight against the Kurds.”
The ISIS operative also explained that Daesh’s strategic priority is to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria — other targets in Turkey, the US and Iraq, for instance, are secondary priorities:
“The Turkish regime, the US, the Iraqi regime are not important for us, but the Syrian regime is. Because we see Syria as the center for the Islamic State that will be founded.”
Yildiz also confirmed that ISIS has a massive presence across Turkey, “in Istanbul, Konya, Ankara and all Kurdish cities. But Antep was chosen as the central base for the effective use of the border and to have all routes pass from a common point.”
Antep, he said, is the crossing point into ISIS territory for foreign fighters from all over the world, including Turkish nationals. Yet they do so with impunity, right under the nose of Turkish security forces.
“People rushing from all over the world pass from a narrow passage here,” said Yildiz. “They cross from the peripheral districts and villages in Antep. It’s impossible for the security forces to not see them, not notice them.”
He identified several different passage points “all around Antep and Kilis. One of these was the Rai side. We passed via Rai and Çobanbey. And we used the Elbeyli side. One of the most frequently used spots was Karkamış. It’s close to Jarablus. These were passage ways always open for us.”
Savas Yildiz’s claims are surprisingly detailed, suggesting they are indeed accurate. And they cohere with a large body of mounting evidence.
Ahmet Yayla, former counter-terrorism and crime prevention chief for the Turkish National Police between 2010 and 2014, had direct experience of operations on the Turkish-Syria border.
“The Erdogan government has consistently turned a blind eye to tens of thousands of ISIS supporters using the Istanbul airport and porous Turkish border to cross into Syria to join ISIS,” he said.
Apart from witnessing the Turkey-Syria terror funnel firsthand, Yayla has interviewed dozens of ISIS defectors hiding in Turkey, in his capacity as deputy director of the International Center for the Study of Violence Radicalisation.
The findings of this research — conducted in collaboration with NATO and Pentagon counter-terrorism consultant, Professor Anne Speckhard of Georgetown University, a specialist in the psycho-social factors in radicalisation — have been published in their book released in July, ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate, as well as in their recent paper in the peer-reviewed Perspectives on Terrorism journal.
They draw on these interviews to explain that direct Turkish sponsorship of ISIS is an open secret within the terror network:
“Despite Erdogan’s claims that he is fighting ISIS, evidence indicates that he has been, and continues to be, deeply complicit in allowing ISIS to transport, not just recruits via Turkey, but also weapons and supplies. These chilling facts have been confirmed over and again during our ISIS defector interviews. A former emir told us that ISIS had been able to construct thousands of propane tank bombs from supplies they brought in through Turkey.”
Yayla and Speckhard argue that Erdogan “needs ISIS as a tool to quell the PKK, the Kurdish rebel forces that are anti-Turkish rule, anti-Erdogan, and anti-ISIS.”
A cache of documents seized by Kurdish forces from ISIS fighters between December 2014 and March 2015 provided documentary evidence that ISIS fighters moved freely back and forth across the Turkish-Syrian border with assistance from “private companies.”
Last year, a senior Western official familiar with a large cache of intelligence obtained from a major US-led raid on an ISIS safehouse said that “direct dealings between Turkish officials and ranking ISIS members was now ‘undeniable.’”
The official confirmed that Turkey is also aiding other jihadist groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
“The distinctions they draw [with other opposition groups] are thin indeed,” said the official. “There is no doubt at all that they militarily cooperate with both.”
Several other ISIS defectors have confirmed that ISIS field captains and commanders in Syria were in direct contact with “Turkish officials”, as there was “full cooperation with the Turks.”
But perhaps the most damning assessment was made by one of Erdogan’s own allies, King Abdullah of Jordan, who told a meeting of senior Congressional representatives in Washington DC in January that Turkey was deliberately encouraging ISIS to dispatch terrorists across the border into Europe, to carry out terrorist attacks.
“The fact that terrorists are going to Europe is part of Turkish policy and Turkey keeps on getting a slap on the hand, but they are let off the hook”, the Jordanian king reportedly told the meeting.
The Congressional debrief was attended by the chairmen and members of the Senate Intelligence, Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, including Senators John McCain and Bob Corker, and Senators Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, the Senate Majority and Minority leaders respectively.
Abdullah also confirmed that the Turkish state was complicit in ISIS oil sales. President Erdogan, he said, was committed to a “radical Islamic solution to the region” and to the conflict in Syria.
The Jordanian king’s statements corroborate a previous investigation by INSURGE intelligence exposing a Turkish state role in facilitating ISIS oil sales.
The king’s comments were supported by Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, also at the Congressional meeting, who said that after Russian bombing had prevented Turkey from establishing safe zones in northern Syria to stop refugees from coming to Turkey, “Turkey unleashed the refugees onto Europe”.
King Abdullah’s comments were reported by the Middle East Eye (MEE), but barely acknowledged in the wider press except by a handful of outlets.
They provide stunning evidence that the escalating terror threat from ISIS to Europe has been deliberately increased by one of NATO’s most powerful members.
Jordan’s military and intelligence agencies work directly with Turkey, other Gulf states, and the West in coordinating military training and assistance to anti-Assad rebels in Syria. They are well-placed to detect problems with Turkish policies in the region toward ISIS.
But so are other Western intelligence agencies. The deafening silence of Western authorities in the face of King Abdullah’s revelations raises urgent questions about the ongoing refusal of NATO to take action to shut down the sponsorship of ISIS by one of its own members.
INSURGE intelligence contacted NATO for comment and was told by a spokesperson that the alliance would respond “soon.”
These were my questions:
“My question is, in the wake of this mounting evidence, what is NATO going to do about Turkey?
Given that combating ISIS is the highest priority, will NATO members be seeking access to Yildiz to interrogate him for intelligence on ISIS’ sponsors, financial networks and organisational structures — of which Yildiz appears to be intimately familiar?
And will NATO begin taking action to shut down the state-sponsorship of ISIS occurring in its own midst?”
At 3PM GMT, Daniel Arnaud, NATO’s head of media operations, finally replied with an email explaining, essentially, that NATO is on holiday while Turkey burns:
“Yesterday was a national holiday and many people are away today. We will answer your query in the next week.”
That’s how to fight the ‘war on Daesh.’
After MEE’s report, Jordan’s government issued a statement officially denying that the king had accused Turkey of exporting terror to Europe. However, MEE’s account was based on a credible source directly familiar with the discussion at the Congressional meeting.
Two months after King Abdullah’s reported warnings behind closed doors in Capitol Hill, multiple Turkish courts inexplicably released high-level ISIS operatives who had previously been arrested and charged. Among them was Abu Hanzala, the nom de guerre of Halis Bayancuk, and his associates.
Hanzala is believed to be ISIS’s senior commander in Turkey, and was caught with arms and ammunition when arrested.
He was described by ISIS operative Savas Yildiz as a major clerical figure in the Turkish operations of ISIS, responsible for promoting its theological doctrines and recruiting hundreds of fighters.
Thanks to the Istanbul High Criminal Court’s decision of 24 March, Turkey’s very own ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’ is now free to plot further terror. Not just him, but a total of 94 alleged ISIS operatives were released.
Meanwhile, NATO is taking a break for the long weekend, and may or may not decide to get back to me.
The danger to Europe due to Turkey’s escalating support to ISIS was further highlighted in the aftermath of the failed military coup against Erdogan’s presidency. Erdogan has responded by launching his own counter-coup against Turkey’s democratic institutions.
According to a statement from the Kurdish National Congress (KNC), a coalition of Kurdish organisations from across Europe made-up of exiled Kurdish politicians, lawyers, and civil society leaders, Erdogan’s actions are fueling a form of “sectarian nationalism” that “will create a Turkish ISIS.”
The AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party, “now hopes to strengthen its grasp on power and their anti-Kurdish, anti-democratic system,” warned the KNC:
“Just as this coup attempt has emboldened the AKP, its allies and the nationalists, it has also radicalised the sectarian nationalist circles close to the AKP. This will lead to a new breed of Turkish ISIS-like formations, such as Osmanli Ocaklari, a paramilitary group organised by Erdogan himself.”
The KNC also warns that Osmanli Ocaklari is both reaching out to ISIS while developing connections across Europe: “They are already organising in European countries; links between them and ISIS are already being discussed. These sectarian nationalist trends will further radicalise and become repressive forces against any opposition to the AKP.”
The KNC warns that under the AKP’s ideological and political umbrella, sectarian nationalism will become “Turkey’s version of ISIS… a more radical version of the Muslim Brotherhood” used to project power across the region.
This article was updated at 5:07pm to incorporate the preliminary non-response received from a NATO spokesperson
Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is an award-winning 15-year investigative journalist, international security scholar, bestselling author, and film-maker.
He is the creator of INSURGEintelligence, a crowdfunded public interest investigative journalism project, ‘System Shift’ columnist at VICE, and a weekly columnist at Middle East Eye. He is International Editor at The Canary. Previously, Nafeez wrote The Guardian’s ‘Earth insight’ blog.
His work has been published in The Guardian, VICE, Independent on Sunday, The Independent, The Scotsman, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, The New Statesman, Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, Raw Story, New Internationalist, Huffington Post UK, Al-Arabiya English, AlterNet, The Ecologist, and Asia Times, among other places.
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In 2015, Nafeez won the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian story on the energy politics of the Ukraine crisis. The previous year he won another Project Censored Award, known popularly as the ‘Alternative Pulitzer’, for his Guardian article on climate-induced food crises and civil unrest.
In 2010, Nafeez won the Routledge-GCPS Essay Prize for his academic paper on the ‘Crisis of Civilisation’ published in the journal Global Change, Peace and Security. He also won the Premio Napoli (Naples Prize) in 2003, Italy’s most prestigious literary award created by decree of the President of the Republic.
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Nafeez is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), and the scifi thriller novel ZERO POINT, among other books. His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.
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