Turkey is now a rogue intelligence state under Erdoğan

The sweeping changes to the intelligence law with the latest government decree that bypassed Parliament and avoided public debate cause one to conclude that Turkey under the regime of the authoritarian leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has officially moved to a rogue police and intelligence state, one that is a hostile, insular, irredentist and irrational actor in world politics.

The restructuring the notorious intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), and its formal integration with President Erdoğan’s office under blanket immunities and new powers confirmed the view that the most important challenge for Turkish democracy will be tackling the clandestine business schemes Turkish Islamists have been plotting through secretive intel services. From keeping the judiciary on a tight leash to achieving strict control over civil society, from running a propaganda machine to muzzling critical media, Erdoğan has been using MİT, led by his confidante Hakan Fidan, to fulfill his ambitions in Turkey and beyond. He manipulates the Turkish media through propagandists who are on the payroll of MİT and blackmails and threatens his opponents with plots cooked up by MİT.

Law-decree No.694, which was approved by the Cabinet on Aug. 15, 2017 and published in the Official Gazette 10 days later, builds upon already rushed prior amendments to the intelligence law that were made when Erdoğan was caught red-handed unlawfully shipping heavy arms and ammunition to jihadists in Syria in January 2014. Both changes back in 2014 and new ones that were enacted in August clearly defy benchmarks set by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe that laid out the rules in an excellent analytical piece titled “Report on the Democratic Oversight of the Security Services” in June 2007, updated in April 2015. The overriding theme of the commission’s report is that control of the intelligence community by the courts, legislative branch and independent and expert bodies is essential for the functioning of a democracy based on the rule of law.

Below is a review of some of the most serious changes made to Turkish laws on how Turkish intelligence should operate, its mandate and what rules and procedures shall apply when it comes to accountability, if any. It makes a case of how Turkish democracy has been transformed into an autocratic, intelligence-run state rooted in Islamic zealotry and xenophobic euphoria.

The amendment to the 1970 Law No.1325, which regulates the mandate of the Ministry of Defense, stated that MİT would be responsible for intelligence gathering on all defense personnel as well as officers in the armed forces. The amendment sidelines military intelligence and paves the way for MİT to spy on the Turkish military both on and off base. This is quite a departure and dramatic change. What is more, the regulations allowing MİT to collect information on the military and its personnel will be drafted by MİT itself and be approved by Erdoğan personally. In other words, Turkey’s spy agency is also empowered with a new mandate to institute secondary legislative changes on its own without even bothering with the involvement of NATO’s second largest army, which will be impacted directly by the process.

Given the fact that MİT chief Fidan is believed to be a mole for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as the hushed-up investigation by police intelligence into IRGC’s Quds Force activities in Turkey exposed in 2014, an agency that is under the influence of Iran would be tapping into NATO’s pool of shared intelligence without any checks or hindrance. The 2014 probe into Iran’s spy network and its clandestine activities in Turkey revealed how Fidan was passing information to Quds Force generals, using MİT’s private plane to fly Iranian generals between Tehran and Ankara. A leaked confidential US National Security Agency (NSA) document dated April 13, 2013 revealed that the US had been concerned about Fidan’s Iranian connections based on a flurry of US intelligence reporting in recent years indicating that connection.

The second change, to Law No. 2937 — which regulates the activities of the spy agency MİT – put the agency directly under the control of President Erdoğan as opposed to the prime minister. Although it was Erdoğan who was already calling the shots in commanding the spy agency, albeit unlawfully because of the low-key profile of Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, the Turkish president made it official with this change and did not leave it to chance in the event an underdog might replace Yıldırım down the road. The law in its new form clearly rules out any responsibility of the spy agency to anybody or any institution other the president himself, dealing a blow to the critical parliamentary and judicial oversight role over MİT.

Another change was accomplished through an amendment to Law No. 2918 on Motorways Traffic, putting MİT in full control of motor vehicle registration and inspections for its own fleet, able to hide its vehicles as it wishes and run emission inspections without the review of any other agency that deals with traffic and vehicle registration. This would effectively allow the spy agency to falsify the records without anybody knowing and claim a vehicle as its own when in fact it is registered to others and contractors. Just as in the case of illegal arms shipments that were escorted on rented trucks in January 2014, MİT can provide full immunity for any vehicle from any lawful search, seizure or investigation by claiming it belongs to the agency.

Erdoğan also established a new board called the Milli İstihbarat Koordinasyon Kurulu (MİKK, or National Intelligence Coordination Board) to consolidate all intelligence in his lavish palace where he runs the operations directly. The board would shape the fundamental policies in steering intelligence activity among various agencies, and it will be MİT that will take care of the secretariat work of this new board. This means Erdoğan will frame the underlying themes of intelligence gathering and targeting from his office and impose the terms of what he considers a threat to his rule as a straightjacket mandate to all intelligence agencies in Turkey. The law-decree does not say who the members of the board will be but notes that the implementing law on how the board will operate will be determined by Erdoğan’s government without the involvement of Parliament.

The amendment to Article 8 of Law No. 2937 leaves the Cabinet out in the cold during emergency rule and wartime mobilization, entrusting the power to manage how MİT will handle its relations with other government agencies in the hands of President Erdoğan, who would draft regulations as he wishes after seeking the opinion of the National Security Council (MGK). The Cabinet is removed from providing any input in this process. The change to Article 11 of the intelligence law gives a free hand to MİT in enlisting any military officer as a spy without bothering to seek permission from the Turkish Armed Forces, as opposed to the requirements of the 1967 Law No. 926 on Military Personnel.

A new addition to Article 26 requires Erdoğan’s permission to investigate MİT Undersecretary Fidan, providing him with full-clad immunity from any prosecution as long as he keeps doing the dirty bidding of his boss. The addition also empowers the Turkish president to swap or hand over prisoners of foreign nationals with a request initiated by the foreign or justice ministries, which are led by his lackeys Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Abdülhamit Gül, respectively. Even in cases where the MİT chief is summoned to testify as a “witness,” Erdoğan’s permission is required. Prosecutors must secure the permission of the intel chief to ask any intelligence officer to testify in court.

As far as freedom of the press is concerned, the most lethal blow dealt to the free, independent and critical media in Turkey, or what is left of it, anyway, is the new wording that was added to Article 27 of the intelligence law. According to the revamped version of the law, those who disclose MİT members’ identities, positions or duties in any way will face up to seven years’ jail time. This is a warning shot to investigative journalists who might expose MİT’s dirty schemes and reveal the people involved in those plots.

The provision is valid not only for intelligence officers on the payroll of MİT, but in fact anybody who is tasked by the president to carry out a covert operation is shielded by this protection that carries jail time for offenders. For example, when Erdoğan sent operatives to Germany to spy on his critics and plot schemes on foreign soil, Turkish reporters would not have been able to write about it even if it was exposed and covered widely in the German media, as happened in the case of Erdoğan’s personal aide, Muhammed Taha Gergerlioğlu, and other operatives who were detained in 2015 on espionage charges in Germany. Those who expose MİT officers aiding and abetting jihadists including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) will risk jail time according to this new law.

It is clear that Turkey’s strongman wants to govern Turkey through an intelligence organization that he has turned into his private detective agency in cooking up plots and organizing dirty schemes to sustain his rule even if that costs the lives of innocent people in false flag operations. Commenting on these new changes contained in the law-decree, Erdoğan said on Aug. 28, 2017 that “our intelligence agency should also continue to become stronger. In fact, when I think about the intelligence agency from 15 years ago and look at the current one, I see that we’ve made great progress.” He claimed that MİT has now developed important assets in the West and in Muslim countries. “MİT is also taking further steps in humanitarian and technical intelligence, and we have an intelligence agency that is taking steps in becoming a determinative power in the region,” he said. Erdoğan was boasting about assets in the new portfolio of MİT, hinting at his investments in proxy groups in other countries.

MİT’s leveraging of jihadists who have found their way to Syria for years since 2011 is now working the other way around, threatening countries from where foreign fighters have descended on Syria. ISIL attackers from Paris to Brussels, from St. Petersburg to Stockholm, had mysteriously managed to come to Turkey and spend some time under the watch of Turkish intelligence, which aided and abetted their movement through Turkey. The massive profiling and espionage activities by MİT and its proxies of Erdoğan’s critics are still going on in many European countries, while efforts are under way to continue mobilizing diaspora Turkish and Muslim groups on behalf of Erdoğan’s political goals with the help of MİT. Just like communist-era state intelligence services, Turkish intelligence agency MİT under Erdoğan and his thugs should be considered a hostile spy agency that presents a national security risk for other countries. It has to be contained, neutralized and thwarted by policy actions as well as by legal cases.

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Erdoğan’s growing personality cult in Turkey

Almost the entire Cabinet and senior members of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) government now follow the personality cult of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a painter’s brush style, trimmed mustache and a wearing a checkered jacket that looks like a tablecloth, signs that Turkey’s dictator is following in the path of his contemporary strongman peers in constructing a myth around his personality.

The checkered jacket, Erdoğan’s trademark, has been in play for some time, and many people have started wearing similar ones, often with a square blue design, in defiance of the blue and black suits traditionally worn by Turkish politicians. But the mustache fashion was really kicked off in 2016 when Erdoğan ordered his executive secretary, Hasan Doğan, to grow one. That was followed by deputy prime ministers and other Cabinet members who had never before had a mustache, and Erdoğan closely followed whether his henchmen paid any attention to his fashion instructions. Taking the hint, most lawmakers in Erdoğan’s party joined the mustache club in order not to irritate the leader and in the hope that they might win a few points with the president.

The campaign of growing a mustache and wearing checkered suits is actually an indication of a bigger picture we see in today’s leadership in Turkey, which has been stymied by the personality cult of one man who calls all the shots, from how one presents oneself to what one wears. He is micromanaging everything, avoiding delegating to others. He has been hostile to diversity and persistent on uniformity during his iron-grip rule. It says a lot about Erdoğan’s self-arrogant, overconfident and narcissist character, which does not tolerate the right to dissent or the right to freedom of expression.

Erdoğan’s personality cult has been in the making for some time, with most Turkish media publishing his pictures in headline stories on the front page, while offices in government buildings feature Erdoğan’s photos all over the walls. His public speeches that take place several times in a single day sometimes are televised live by more than a dozen TV networks, while his propagandists fill the air waves in prime-time TV news and debate programs.

His family and associates have spent enough time, energy and funds to build Erdoğan’s myth. From documentaries to movies, Erdoğan’s family has been closely involved in making films about him, the leaked Red-Hack emails of Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak revealed. The script of a movie titled “Reis” (Chief), released on March 3, 2017, was discussed extensively among family members, producers and others for two years before it made it to the big screen. The AKP grassroots were mobilized to watch his movie in theaters when it was released in an effort to make the movie a blockbuster. Not only public networks, but also private TV stations aired documentaries celebrating Erdoğan’s life.

With revisionist history and reconstruction of the past, Erdoğan is creating his own narrative based on neo-Ottoman aspirations, positioning himself as the descendant of the Turkish sultans who were sworn to protect the Islamic Caliphate. A day after the disputed April 16, 2017 constitutional referendum that gave Erdoğan imperial powers, the Turkish president visited the tomb of Ottoman Sultan Yavuz Selim with a media entourage and posed while praying there. It was Selim who took over the caliphate in the 18th century after a major conquest in the Middle East. On June 7, 2017, he also repeated the Ottoman sultans’ practice of visiting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad’s holy mantle kept in the Topkapı Palace museum. In a high-profile event held in eastern Turkey on Aug. 26, 2017, Erdoğan celebrated the 946th anniversary of the Battle of Malazgirt, the victory of Seljuk Sultan Alparslan over the Byzantine Empire on Aug. 26, 1071, to bring back pre-Ottoman history. Soldiers in traditional Ottoman uniforms were standing at the podium as he delivered a firebrand speech, promising to make Turkey great again.

Naturally, this showing off by Erdoğan goes beyond Turkish borders as he tries to sell himself as the self-declared leader of all oppressed Muslims and boasts of his close interests in Muslims and Turkish diaspora communities abroad. As he continuously challenges the West with strong, hostile posturing, Erdoğan nevertheless does not forget to bash Russia, China and the Arab states once in a while. He gives the impression that he is a leader who does not hesitate to pick a fight with mighty adversaries. When his opponents strike back, not just with rhetoric but by launching real actions that have the possibility of undermining his rule back at home, Erdoğan cowers in fear and takes a step back only to make another move when the opportunity presents itself.

No doubt Erdoğan has charisma and appeal for Turks. He connects to the people with simple words, sometimes resorting to slang and street language to make a point, sprinkles some religious statements in and even cites verses from the Quran to justify what he says. He enjoys broad support not necessarily of his own doing but rather due to the terrible failure of the opposition, which seems to be in perpetual disarray in offering a credible alternative to his rule. From the days when he was mayor of Istanbul, he stashed away enough cash from municipal contracts and kickbacks to be able to spend considerable resources cultivating a personality cult. Long-serving Cabinet members in his 14-year rule are the men (interestingly no woman that one can recall) who remain loyal to him from his mayoral days in the late ’90s.

Obviously, Erdoğan’s personality cult requires demonization of his opponents, from journalists who criticize him to political parties that do not go along with his policies. He vilifies any and everybody who does not share the same philosophy and tries to discredit their standing by calling them traitors, terrorists, spies and lackeys for major powers [read: the US-led West]. On the other hand, he presents himself as a righteous leader of the people and claims his will is nothing but the will of his own people in Turkey or Muslims globally. Erdoğan often says he cares only what his people say or God instructs and does not mind what the West or others say about him or Turkey.

The pro-Erdoğan clergy has been busy furnishing religious credentials for the Turkish president as caliph, the leader of all Muslims in the world, and some even have likened him to the prophesized savior (Mahdi) at the end of time before the Apocalypse. Hayrettin Karaman, Erdoğan’s chief fatwa (religious edict) giver, claimed that defying Erdoğan is against Islam and that the Muslim faith requires believers to cast their votes for him in elections. Even legislators have glorified Erdoğan with religious references. “Erdoğan is a leader who embodies all of the characteristics of God,” AKP lawmaker Feval Aslan said, while İsmail Sezer, the AKP provincial chairman in the western province of Aydın, declared that “Erdoğan is a second prophet to us.” “Believe me, even touching our dear prime minister [Erdoğan] is a sacred prayer,” said AKP Bursa deputy Hüseyin Şahin.

Former EU affairs minister Egemen Bağış went as far as to announce that Rize, Erdoğan’s birthplace, is a sacred place. Apparently enjoying these remarks, Erdoğan has never contradicted them or chastised these people. Since religious justification carries significant weight in the Erdoğan myth, the Turkish president has often railed against the Vatican and fueled anti-Christian sentiment in Turkey. He has also bashed US-based Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen and Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar, two leading Islamic thinkers who challenged Erdoğan’s exploitation of Islam for political gain and personal enrichment.

The Turkish president expends time, energy and resources to export his personality cult overseas by mobilizing Turkish and Muslim diaspora groups. He diverts state funds to build mega mosques abroad to lay claim to his self-declared title of representing all Muslims of the world. His government has supported and funded parallel networks especially in Europe to organize Turks to serve his petty interests such as organizing protest rallies, spying on his critics in exile and boycotting political parties in European governments that have criticized Erdoğan’s policies. He does not realize that he is actually overreaching and disturbing Turkey’s allies and partners who are determined to check Erdoğan’s ambitions and prevent his long arm from interfering in their own affairs.

The best way to undermine Erdoğan’s personality cult is to deprive him of the attention he constantly seeks from abroad by shunning him and keeping him from high-profile events, not providing the photo opportunities he seeks and thwarting the policies he tries to advance on regional and global platforms. He must be exposed as a corrupt fraudster who justifies any means to build a personality cult and mystical leadership with a heavy dose of religious and nationalist undercurrents.

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Erdoğan’s scheming to frame the innocent exposed

As the rule of law has ceased to exist in Turkey, a NATO ally and EU candidate country, it is no longer surprising to see farcical indictments and sham trials based solely on false, defamatory and malicious assertions that are in fact sourced from the narratives used by country’s authoritarian Islamist rulers.

Abdullah Bozkurt
The nation’s top-notch judges and prosecutors comprising some 30 percent of all members of the judiciary were purged from the government, which instead brought in an unqualified partisan bunch to fill the vacancies. That is why we see a theatrical farce in prosecutions, indictments and trial hearings in the criminal justice system, which is blatantly abused by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government to hunt down critics and opponents on false charges.

There are two ways the Erdoğan government orchestrates politically motivated criminal investigations. One is the launching of probes directly by law enforcement agencies under loyalist prosecutors who are amenable to the executive branch’s wishes and directives. The other is to have proxies file criminal complaints with prosecutors’ offices against Erdoğan critics so that a case can be built or an investigation launched without putting the government in the spotlight. Afraid of inviting the wrath of his interlocutors directly, Erdoğan uses the second option to minimize the fallout and contain the possible risk from negative repercussions that may arise and harm his political leadership. In either case, the indictments read as if exact replicas of what Erdoğan and his cronies has been preaching in public speeches.

It’s time to expose the operatives who get their signals from the Erdoğan government in going about filing complaints and then conducting public relations campaigns to provide some traction for the government to hold on to. Let’s start with a lawyer named Mehmet Sarı, 42-year old Islamist and graduate of the İHL religious school from the central province of Çorum who filed a criminal complaint in April 2017 against more than a dozen US nationals, accusing them of attempting to destroy the constitutional order, rendering the functioning of Parliament ineffective and toppling the Erdoğan government. Among the suspects named were Senator Charles Schumer, former US federal district attorney Preet Bharara, former CIA Director John Brennan, former CIA Deputy Director and Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen, US academic Henri J. Barkey, US author and political analyst Graham E. Fuller and several Turkish-Americans who are affiliated with the Gülen movement.

Sarı is no ordinary lawyer. He is well connected to the Erdoğan government and in fact serves as the senior member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) branch in İstanbul’s Bahçelievler district. He leads a pro-Erdoğan group called the Jurists Association (Hukukçular Derneği in Turkish) that has been very active, from advocating for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to pressing for criminal convictions of top Israeli commanders in the Mavi Marmara trial in Istanbul. He has been groomed to defend Erdoğan’s policies on TV networks that were instructed to have him appear as an expert in legal affairs. This man has access to the leadership in Turkey, is often invited to state protocol events and poses shaking hands with Erdoğan, the justice minister and other senior government officials. No way could he have filed the criminal complaint against leading US figures without getting approval from the government. Sarı is now floating the idea of securing international arrest warrants for the Americans named in his complaint.

Here is another one. In August 2016 a lawyer named Mert Eryılmaz, a nationalist figure who supports Erdoğan, filed a criminal complaint against Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Director of US National Intelligence James Clapper and US Army Gen. Joseph Votel, accusing them of plotting a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 and disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization. The lawyer claimed that Turkey’s İncirlik Airbase in Adana, which is used by the Turkish Air Force as well as US forces, was the place where the July 15 “imperialist invasion” was orchestrated. He asked for the base to be temporarily shut down.

In both cases, Turkish prosecutors processed the complaints instead of dismissing them and let them linger with a view to fostering the idea of a conspiracy by the US in the eyes of the Turkish public. As expected, both cases were widely covered by Turkish media, giving Erdoğan what he wanted in the first place: fanning anti-US euphoria, giving some credence to conspiracy claims under legal cover and deflecting the Turkish people’s attention from real troubles such as economic woes. Such noise in public discussions also helped Erdoğan cover his tracks on how he had actually plotted a false flag in the name of a coup attempt so that they could persecute their opponents, consolidate their gains and transform the Turkish military, NATO’s second largest army, into a bastion for Islamists and neo-nationalists.

Erdoğan’s army of prosecutors not only sat on these baseless complaints but at times actually went ahead by incorporating the complaints into official indictments. Again, all this was happening by design. For example a criminal complaint filed in March 2014 by a man named Hüseyin Kamil Akarsu, an Erdoğan supporter in the western province of Muğla, alleged that the Vatican harbors secret plans against Turkey and aims to convert the whole of Asia to Christianity. The leaked email messages of Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is now the energy minister, reveal how Erdoğan’s family was involved with this plaintiff and ran a pope-bashing campaign to feed the conspiracy frenzy. They plotted to bring a smear campaign against the Vatican into the Turkish criminal justice system by means of false complaints such as that of Akarsu.

This absurd complaint, taken seriously by the Erdoğan-controlled judiciary and later included in an official indictment by a Turkish prosecutor, also alleged that leading interfaith advocate and prominent Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen — a critic of Erdoğan for massive corruption schemes and the president’s blatant abuse of Islam for political gain and personal enrichment – is a secret cardinal at the Vatican. Akarsu cited Gülen’s meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1998, part of the Muslim cleric’s outreach and dialogue efforts among faiths, as evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The emails show the complaint was sent to Egemen Bağış, the disgraced former EU affairs minister who had to resign after a graft probe revealed he took $1.5 million in cash from an Iranian man named Reza Zarrab in exchange for government favors. Bağış shared the complaint against the Vatican with Berat and his brother Serhat Albayrak, who manages government mouthpiece the Sabah daily. All these preposterous claims were laid out in the complaint and later extensively covered by pro-government dailies including Sabah.

The fourth example of how Erdoğan and his thugs orchestrated criminal complaints to launch prosecutions against critics to intimidate and harass them was uncovered during the Erdoğan government’s rush to defend al-Qaeda-linked Turkish group Tahşiyeciler led by Mullah Muhammed (his real name is Mehmet Doğan), a radical cleric who calls for armed jihad and the killing of Americans. He openly endorsed Osama bin Laden and called for supporting bin Laden’s army. Bülent Arınç, then deputy prime minister and government spokesperson, publicly admitted in 2014 that the government invited Mullah Muhammed and his associates to file a criminal complaint against the police chiefs, judges and prosecutors who were involved in the investigation into the group as well as journalists who wrote critically about Tahşiyeciler. Gülen was also named as a defendant in the complaint.

The Erdoğan government later turned the complaint into a tool to indict investigators and arrest judges and prosecutors who investigated al-Qaeda cells, seized the highest-circulating newspaper Zaman on this false complaint and issued arrest warrants for journalists as well as for Gülen. As if that were not enough, Erdoğan even hired a shadowy lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, to file a civil suit against Gülen in a US court based on these complaints. The frivolous case was later tossed out by the US judge.

There are more examples showing how Erdoğan and his associates frame innocent people with the malicious attempt to prosecute. The jailing of human rights defenders in July 2017 that included İdil Eser, director of Amnesty International Turkey, and two foreign nationals, Ali Gharavi of Sweden, who specializes in IT strategy, and Peter Steudtner of Germany, who is a non-violence and wellbeing trainer, originated with a complaint by a translator. The whole game was a set up to persecute human rights defenders. The same is also true for American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was jailed in October 2016 on trumped-up terror charges, again based on complaints. The charging paper was upgraded last week to include espionage and attempting to destroy the constitutional order and overthrow the Turkish Parliament.

This is how Erdoğan plots his schemes under the guise of legal complaints purportedly originating from citizens, hoping that nobody will notice his government’s malicious attempt to pursue his critics, fan xenophobic sentiment and find scapegoats to constantly shift the blame to others instead of owning up to the mess he has created in the governance of Turkey. He is also using jailed foreigners as hostages to bargain with other countries in his effort to convince them to join his witch-hunt against critics and opponents. Well, that does not seem to be working since the US, Germany and others refuse to negotiate with hostage-taker Erdoğan. The Turkish president’s storyline is no longer found to be credible, and he has been exposed for the world to know what kind of a scumbag he is: a corrupt hypocrite who blackmails and threatens allies and partners and thinks he can get away with what he does.

There must come a day of reckoning for this 21st century European dictator.

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Is Qatar Charity funding al-Qaeda in Turkey?

Turkish Islamists and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government have hastily rallied for Qatar in Doha’s recent row with Gulf and Arab states not only because they share similar ideological zealotry rooted in politicized Islam but also because of the irresistible appeal of Qatari cash funneling through Turkish governmental and nongovernmental groups under charitable works that at times have ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda militants and other jihadists in Syria.

Qatar Charity, a controversial nongovernmental entity that was funded by the government in Doha to support Qatar’s political initiatives, has been actively operating in Turkey with the full backing of the Erdoğan government. It has been channeling funds to groups like the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH in Turkish), which was identified as a conduit for providing arms and logistical supplies to jihadist groups in Syria and Libya.

When the confidential investigation into al-Qaeda cells in Turkey that were operating out of the eastern province of Van near the Iranian border was made public with sweeping raids on IHH offices in Kilis near the Syrian border, computers that belonged to Qatar Charity and IHH were hauled away. The raid came after investigators found out that a man working for the IHH was working with an al-Qaeda Turkish cell and using the charity as a cover to move supplies to militants in Syria. However, before the investigators dug further into the seized evidence, Erdoğan stepped in and hushed up the probe to protect his associates who were running logistical lines to jihadists across the Turkish-Syrian border.

Thanks to monitoring by police intelligence since 2012, we now know a great deal about this particular al-Qaeda cell led by İbrahim Şen (37), a convicted al-Qaeda terrorist who was running a recruitment and trafficking drive between Turkey and Syria and using the IHH, among others, to cover this terror network. Şen was detained in Pakistan on alleged al-Qaeda links and transferred to Guantanamo where he was kept until 2005, before US officials decided to turn him over to Turkey. According to the investigation file in Turkey, he has been working with the Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), led by Erdoğan’s confidante Hakan Fidan, since the Syrian crisis started in 2011. Apparently due to his political cover from the government and a secret contract with MİT, Şen was saved from legal troubles. He was arrested in January 2014 and indicted in October 2014 but let go at the first hearing of the trial in October 2014.

According to the investigation file, the incriminating evidence against the IHH and by extension its partners such as Qatar Charity was collected when police surveilled and wiretapped operatives working in Şen’s al-Qaeda cell. In addition to the Kilis branch, al-Qaeda militants also used the Kayseri branch of the IHH to send funds and medical and household supplies to jihadists in Syria.

Investigators believed that Şen used these NGOs when he wanted to conceal illegal shipments to jihadists, and the conclusion was that these NGOs took part in this scheme deliberately, knowing well what they were into. Three people identified by the police as partners of Şen in smuggling goods to Syria are Ömer Faruk Aksebzeci (works out of the IHH Kayseri branch), Recep Çamdalı (a member of the IHH in the Kayseri branch) and İbrahim Halil İlgi (working out of the Kilis IHH branch). The transcripts of wiretaps between Şen and these operatives showed how they planned to use ambulances to transport goods to jihadists when the border governor prohibited pick-up trucks from crossing into Syria.

Qatar Charity dodged the bullet when the Erdoğan government not only swept the investigation under the rug but also dismissed and arrested dozens of judges, prosecutors and police chiefs who probed one of the most important al-Qaeda cells in Turkey for two years before taking legal action to bring them to justice. This botched investigation confirms the US assessment of Qatar Charity as well. According to leaked US cables, the US government flagged Qatar Charity in March 2008 as “a priority III terrorism support entity (TSE) by the Interagency Intelligence Committee on Terrorism (IICT), after having demonstrated intent and willingness to provide financial support to terrorist organizations willing to attack US persons or interests, or provide witting operational support to Priority I-II terrorist groups.” The money flow to jihadists in Syria through Qatar Charity’s controversial Turkish partner is a smoking gun showing this shady business conducted under the guise of charitable works.

According to US prosecutors, Qatar Charity acted as a major financial conduit for funding al-Qaeda attacks against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. In a 2002 federal terrorism case it was noted that Osama bin Laden allegedly used Qatar Charity to fund al-Qaeda’s activities in the 1990s. French intelligence noted in 2013 that Qatar Charity was involved in funding a group in Mali connected with al-Qaeda. A Saudi Arabian-led Gulf and Arab state bloc listed the charity as terrorism linked because of what they alleged was its financial support for terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Looking at the track record of both Qatar Charity and the IHH, there seems to be a perfect match as they both fund militant groups. The ties between the IHH and Qatar Charity have deepened since Erdoğan helped the IHH and its Qatari partners avoid legal troubles in January 2014. The two signed a strategic memorandum of understanding (MoU) agreement in August 2014 in Doha with the attendance of IHH head Bülent Yıldırım and Qatar Charity CEO Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Kuwari. The agreement was renewed in December 2016 in Istanbul when the IHH and Qatar Charity signed a five-year joint cooperation agreement. Attending the signing ceremony, al-Kuwari said his charity had provided 350 million Qatari riyal for Syria thus far, and the agreement with the IHH covers another 3.5 million riyal. Moreover, Qatar Charity has funded the IHH’s operations in other countries such as Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Sudan, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Myanmar and the Balkan countries.

By the way, Qatar Charity is not the only one that the IHH is in bed with. The Foundation Sheikh Thani Ibn Abdullah for Humanitarian Services (RAF), a Qatari foundation established by the al-Thani family, also worked with the IHH in the Iraqi cities of Anbar, Fallujah and Ramadi in projects worth 20 million Qatari riyal ($5.5 million) in 2014. The IHH sent hundreds of truckloads of aid to Idlib, Aleppo and Hama in 2014 with the support it received from, among others, the RAF and Qatar Charity. To open up in Latin America, the IHH partnered with Qatar’s Eid Charity Foundation and organized programs in June 2017 in Bogota. More is planned in Ecuador and Peru.

Responding to a parliamentary question on the activities of Qatar Charity, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on July 17, 2017 that the government allowed Qatar Charity to open a regional representative office in Ankara on Dec. 18, 2015. When the official inauguration of the office took place on May 9, 2016, Turkish Minister Süleyman Soylu (then labor and now interior minister) attended with Qatar’s minister Hamad bin Nasser bin Qasim Al-Thani. Many senior government officials as well as IHH head Yıldırım were among the invited guests. In his speech Soylu bashed the West and promised to give the full support of the Turkish government to Qatar Charity, which is planning to open new offices in Istanbul and the border province of Gaziantep.

Qatar Charity also signed a five-year cooperation agreement with the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), the government’s lead agency on emergency response and refugee management, in November 2016. A similar five-year MoU was signed between the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) and Qatar Charity on Dec. 12, 2016, and TL 23.7 million ($6.8 million) had been provided to Kızılay by Qatar Charity by April 2017 to cover expenses in Syria. The agreement sees a $10 million contribution to Kızılay.

It is clear that Qatar Charity’s funds aid and abet Erdoğan’s project of moving Turkey away from being a parliamentary democracy by pumping funds to controversial groups like the IHH that are bent on undermining the secular structure of the country. As long as the Erdoğan government keeps protecting these shadowy networks, it is impossible to investigate how much money is actually going to charity work and how much is being diverted to finance terrorism and armed conflict. But there are a lot of red flags out there that point in a direction where things do not appear to be what they seem.

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How to counter Erdoğan’s disinformation war from Turkey

There is a lack of a coherent and comprehensive strategy, if not complacency, to neutralize and fight back at the multi-billion dollar propaganda machine of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has consolidated his control of the Turkish media and weaponized it to attack and slander people, ethnic and religious groups and even entire nations with fake news and fabricated stories.

Erdoğan’s intensified bashing of the US, Germany and the Netherlands in recent months in a conspiracy frenzy that is a total disconnect from reality is just a taste of more to come as he feels increasingly isolated and frustrated over the failure to advance his Islamist project abroad. His marching orders to the media to viciously rail against his domestic opponents have already poisoned Turkish society and fanned xenophobic euphoria and are now spilling over to the Turkish and Muslim diaspora in other countries.

That blatant interference must be tackled head on before it takes a further toll on the psyche of Turks and Muslims who are being groomed to hate with a venomous narrative coming out of Erdoğan and his propaganda machine. This is certainly not a problem unique to Western allies, either. Turkey’s partners ranging from the Arab world to Asian countries have received their own share of Erdoğan’s bashing and bullying through systematic media campaigns run by his media empire. The fact that Russia, China, Egypt and the Gulf states have not been spared Erdoğan’s fury at one time or another shows Erdoğan’s wide brush in painting his enemies with hurtful remarks that will put a stain in history.

Words certainly matter, and Erdoğan’s rhetoric is not just empty talk. It has real consequences as shown on various occasions from vigilante violence targeting foreign travelers in Turkey to the outright branding of international election observers as terrorists. It is time to get a grip on this dangerously developing situation in Turkey and urgently act to thwart Erdoğan’s destabilization efforts through political warfare.

Here is a roadmap on how to counter Erdoğan’s disinformation campaign:

First, one must acknowledge that efforts to engage the Turkish media to help correct the perception that has already been created by Erdoğan’s propaganda machine is a futile attempt because of his suffocating grip on the Turkish media. With the exception of a few low-circulation newspapers and networks that have very limited penetration into the Turkish audience, the media is kept on a tight leash by Erdoğan, who was not even ashamed for holding the world record by jailing 283 journalists and seeking to arrest 135 more. The government has already shuttered almost 200 media outlets in the last year alone and seized the personal and corporate assets of media owners. The remaining media have no incentive to run truthful, credible and consistent stories. From a series of fake interviews to running false stories without bothering to check sources, it can be concluded that the media have no interest in exerting efforts to provide factual information on critical matters as long as it is controlled and influenced by Erdoğan.

Nevertheless, setting the record straight and refuting allegations quickly help provide ammunition to the non-Erdoğan media as well as a few independent and critical outlets that have started broadcasting from exile despite huge financial and logistical challenges. The modus operandi of Erdoğan’s propaganda machine aims to shape first impressions with lies and continues to repeat the same lies in the hope that it will eventually stick. Since first perceptions are important and often difficult to alter, one should concentrate on putting out information about Erdoğan government plots in advance rather than waiting for after the fact, when the damage has already been done. In other words, while efforts to neutralize the impact of fake and false news coming out of the Erdoğan camp should not be abandoned, the priority ought to be naming and shaming his government actions before the Turkish president and his propagandist media get a chance to take a first shot at framing events the way they like.

Second, the majority of the Turkish public, having been subjected to systematic propaganda for years, is under the illusion that Erdoğan is the only savior who has the stamina and courage to stand up against what the government calls imperialist powers that are determined to invade and dismember Turkey. Therefore, any embarrassing exposé whether that would be in the form of corruption or a major blunder in foreign policy would easily be sold to the public as yet another conspiracy by outside powers. Erdoğan will shift the blame to scapegoats as he has been doing throughout his political career as opposed to acknowledging accountability. Using his media power, he was able to sell authentic phone recordings that showed him instructing his son to stash millions of dollars in December 2013 as if it were a fabricated wiretap.

In any case, many Turks would merely shrug off the allegations of, say, a multi-billion dollar graft scheme of the president’s family enterprise, offshore accounts and assets as revealed in the Panama Papers or sexual fantasy toys of Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak in the Red Hack-leaked emails. That illusion would be hard to break unless the public really feels the shrinking budget pinch from the worsening economic outlook that is already under way. Any counter-measure to Erdoğan’s disinformation campaign should factor this reality into the calculations.

The third and perhaps most important move against Erdoğan would be to deprive him of the ability to sell himself as great leader who commands respect and admiration in international fora. Despite attempts to portray himself otherwise, Erdoğan really cares about his global standing and how he is treated in his relations with other countries. He uses every means and venue to boost his image so that he can sell that to the Turkish audience. That includes phone calls to leaders of important countries. His insistence on having high-level summits with the EU leaders, lobbying hard to get in a picture with world leaders such as the US president at high-level meetings shows his hunger for photo opportunities. If he gets snubbed and denied the means to brag, that would undermine his credentials and weaken his claims of grandeur in the eyes of his supporters.

The fourth measure would be to limit Erdoğan’s ability to finance his propaganda machine by going after businesspeople, opportunists and committed Islamists on whom Erdoğan relies for support in exchange for kickbacks, contracts and business incentives. Media moguls such as Ethem Sancak, Aydın Doğan, Turgay Ciner, Ferit Şahenk and Ahmet Albayrak effectively handed over the control of their media affiliates to thugs who act as caretakers for Erdoğan and serve at his pleasure in fueling the propaganda machine because they want to keep their businesses in other fields and personal assets safe. Given that they have sizable assets and investments outside of Turkey as well, they must be reminded of the fact that the cost of their alliance with Erdoğan may very well outweigh the benefits. Punitive measures such as travel bans and the freezing of assets that target media owners who help Erdoğan spread disinformation and fuel extremism in Turkey would be a chilling message.

The fifth move should take aim at Erdoğan’s chief strategists and propagandists in waging political disinformation warfare. That may include some key members of Parliament or leading mayors from Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and his advisors and communications specialists in the government, directors who oversee the state-run media as well as operatives in the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) who coordinate psychological warfare through media outlets. His aide Yiğit Bulut, his spokesperson İbrahim Kalın, the heads of the state-run news outlets Anadolu and broadcasting network TRT Şenol Kazancı and İbrahim Eren, respectively, Nuh Yılmaz, the media advisor at the intelligence agency and Melih Gökçek, the mayor of Ankara who does Erdoğan’s dirty bidding are the first names that come to mind. Putting these operatives on notice with punitive measures would help intimidate bureaucrats who are closely associated in running Erdoğan’s propaganda machine because they would realize there is no impunity for their actions. Both for government employees and media owners, the punitive measures could be expanded to include family members and relatives as well depending on how far Erdoğan is willing to take this fight.

Sixth, Erdoğan is abusing freedoms and exploiting vulnerabilities in Western democracies to expand his propaganda machine network. Most TV networks have been freely broadcasting his messages to Turks in Europe and other places. For example, news, entertainment programs and TV series help shape Turks in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands’ perceptions, undermining the efforts at integration exerted by host countries. Erdoğan’s networks not only give falsified information about Turkey but also comment on issues of the host countries, which in many cases are not subtle but rather border on outright interference. For example, Erdoğan calling the main German political parties such as the CDU, SPD and Greens enemies of Turkey or branding the Dutch government as Nazis who oppress Turks living in the Netherlands were being recycled 24 hours a day by these networks. The licensing, permits and registration of these networks in reaching out to diaspora Turks via satellite or other means can be re-examined to send a message to the Erdoğan government that this meddlesome act won’t be tolerated.

Seventh, the growing threat of Erdoğan’s trolls on Twitter, Facebook and social media accounts, often masked behind fake names, must be addressed as well. It is estimated that some 12,000 trolls were hired by his government to manipulate the news, recycle false stories, promote conspiracies and attack Erdoğan’s critics. Many are on the payroll of municipalities run by Erdoğan’s AKP. At one point, this army of trolls was managed by Mustafa Varank, an aide to Erdoğan, according to a leaked February 2014 telephone conversation between him and Erdoğan’s daughter Sümeyye. The trolls flood discussion forums, post comments on news stories and often parrot the same government narrative in an effort to downplay, challenge and beat out competing narratives. The ringleaders of this troll army must be exposed and held to account.

Last but not least, Turkey’s allies and partners should stop appeasing Erdoğan’s regime in the name of engagement because the continued interaction and cooperation further empowers the Erdoğan regime, enabling him to claim the vanity that he values dearly. He must be regarded as a spoiler who exploits disarray among allies and partners and turns their weaknesses into his strengths by leveraging divisions in the anti-Erdoğan ranks. It is time to call a spade a spade and confront this 21st century dictator forcefully. Unlike Russian disinformation campaigns, this presents a clear and present danger for the NATO alliance from the enemy within. Erdoğan has turned Turkey into a liability for NATO, undermined the alliance sprit with full-blown accusations against member states, plotted false flags to drag it into his dirty proxy war in Syria and run a defamation campaign to discredit the NATO organization.

Let’s remember that Erdoğan does not like to play by the book and is prone to changing the rules in the middle of the game if that suits him. He has been known to dump the deal he struck at the table when it comes to implementing it on the ground. That makes him unpredictable in the sense that one expects certain behavior from a rational actor in international politics. He is more like a spoiler who is bent on using scorched-earth tactics as he has no exit strategy left that would allow him to gracefully retire from politics against the background of graft probes and the illegal arming of jihadists.

However, when one considers his roller-coaster behavior since he found himself and his family incriminated in major corruption investigations that were made public in December 2013 and soon after when his government was caught red-handed sending heavy arms to jihadists in January 2014, he has been on a rampage to destroy Turkey’s democratic institutions in order to stop the reckoning of his unlawful deeds, undermining the nation’s traditional ties with allies and partners. It is easy to anticipate his behavior from this profile of an angry man who wants to bully his way out by bashing others and smearing, threatening and blackmailing his partners. The time has come to say enough is enough.

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Erdoğan plotted RF-4E jet incident to push NATO into a war with Syria

The shooting down of a Turkish RF-4E Phantom reconnaissance jet on June 22, 2012 by Syria after it had violated Syrian airspace near Latakia was a secret false flag operation planned by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) to push Turkey into a military incursion into its southern neighbor at the outset of the civil war in the Arab country while dragging NATO along with it.

I have recently been provided with a cache of confidential data by well-placed sources that reveal how this clandestine operation was planned by MİT and executed by a few associates in the Air Forces. The intelligence agency thought it had swept the incident under the rug by having the government keep reshuffling the case between civilian and military courts under the shroud of secrecy, with sealed case files and closed hearings in the courts. Well, they were wrong, and the truth proved once again that it has a habit of coming out eventually. This incident was nothing but a false flag operation that was designed to create a pretext for Turkey to wage war against Syria and pull NATO allies into the Syrian swamp to make a regime change.

It all started when Turkey’s spy agency MİT managed to take over the country’s largest military eavesdropping facilities, the General Staff Electronic Systems Command (GES), located 20 kilometers south of Ankara in Gölbaşı, on Jan. 1, 2012. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then prime minister, pushed for the transfer of this crucial facility from the military to MİT, which is run by his confidante Hakan Fidan. MİT incorporated this military base under its new name, the Signal Intelligence Directorate (SİB). Six month later, under the guise of testing a new system as part of an electronic intercept and intelligence (ELINT) program developed by Turkish defense contractor ASELSAN, MİT drew up a plan to run reconnaissance flights over Syria, ostensibly to test the program.

The plan was jointly prepared by Lt. Col. Atınç Özkaya, who was working at MİT’s Signal Intelligence, and Çağatay Daldaban, a major who worked in the Air Forces as a flight controller. The plane took off with two pilots from Malatya Erhaç military air base. The plane had a flight path with five legs marked for turns, which clearly showed a deliberate route that crossed through Syrian airspace in the last leg of the flight from point 4 to point 5. The radar readout that tracked the RF-4E jet’s altitude at starting point 1, which was located in international airspace in the north of Cyprus, shows the plane was at an altitude of 21,400 feet. When it started to make a turn at point 4 in the northeast of Cyprus towards Syrian airspace, it had descended to 2,000 feet. It went down as low as 200 feet while it was over Syrian territorial waters. Unlike the original claims by the Turkish government that the jet strayed into Syrian airspace unintentionally, the flight route that was drafted in advance reveals it was a deliberate move. That is why the Air Forces erased the last leg of the flight path between points 4 and 5 before releasing the map to the public after the incident took place.

The radar snapshots released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) that showed the RF-4E violating Syrian airspace before being shot down approximately one kilometer offshore appear more reliable under these revelations. That raises serious questions as to why the Turkish pilots were ordered to fly the jet at 200 feet, exposing themselves to artillery fire from the ground, or why they took a second run on the flight path that violated Syrian airspace after knowing that they had been spotted and identified by Syrian radar.

MİT had the Air Forces run a test flight by two F-16 fighter jets from the 182nd Squadron a day before the RF-4E ran the mission on June 22. The main motivation for the run by the F-16 jets on June 21 was to provoke the Syrian side and agitate the commanders who man the Syrian ground air defenses. When the RF-4E pilots embarked on their secret mission, the Syrian air defense systems were already on high alert from the previous day’s buzzing by the Turkish F-16s, which left their footprint in Syrian radar. Although the Turkish government claimed the flights were test drills as part of routine runs just outside the territorial waters of neighboring states, the Syrian side was never informed about these flights, either on June 21 or 22. The investigation by the Air Forces concluded that there was no explanation offered for why the RF-4E was instructed to fly on the same path that the F-16s took the day before. It was as if the two Turkish pilots were sent to almost certain death without any escort on an already discovered path of incursion.

According to a statement by Air Forces Lt. Col. Mehmet Ünel, who coordinated the flight of the F-16s on June 21, MİT’s point man on these flights, Özkaya, was insistent that the pilots should fly at a dangerously low altitude. “We were flying at 40 feet, but the man [Özkaya] was insisting that we should go lower.” According to Air Forces regulations, part of the rules of engagement book MY 228-3 (A) that was in effect at the time, pilots were banned from flying under 100 feet. Yet, the Turkish intelligence officer was bypassing the air forces command structure and instructing the pilots to violate the rulebook on flight altitude. Özkaya also avoided written notice of the mission, preventing a thorough examination and assessment of the risky flight by the Air Forces that could have been discovered during the processing of paperwork. Instead he opted for verbal instructions and conversations to circumvent the measures that were designed to prevent such incidents in the first place.

Let’s remember that in 2012 the Syrian conflict was still in its early stages, and Damascus by and large had control of its own territory, although it was under great pressure from growing domestic unrest as part of the Arab revolutions. It had no intention of provoking Turkey to pick a fight as Bashar al-Assad clearly said the Syrian government was sorry to have had the jet downed and would not have fired at it if they had known it was a Turkish jet. In July 2012 Assad told Turkish reporter Utku Çakırözer, who is now a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), that he regretted that Syria had hit the Turkish jet unintentionally and without an order given centrally to a missile battery. It was instead the spontaneous response of an anti-aircraft battery reacting to a foreign military plane violating Syrian airspace, he added.

It is clear that the Americans knew that the downing of the plane was a plot by the Turkish government to drag NATO into the Syrian war. That is probably why a US official told Turkish reporter Tolga Tanış in Washington, D.C., on July 2012 that the US knew every detail of the incident but was not considering revealing the information. Well, they actually leaked the data to The Wall Street Journal, which reported on July 2, 2012 that the Turkish RF-4E was hit inside Syrian airspace. The leak was a message to Erdoğan that they would not allow Turkey to drag NATO into a war in Syria to oust Assad over a false flag orchestrated by him and his intelligence agency. But the US officials did not come out publicly with the naked truth because they did not want to undermine NATO’s credibility and break the spirit of the alliance by publicly embarrassing Turkey, an important ally.

The important information shared by the US officials with the WSJ also pointed out that there was no evidence of a SAM being fired, suggesting that the Turkish jet was hit by anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). Given the limited range of Syrian anti-aircraft guns, the RF-4E must have definitely been over Syrian airspace, flying at a low altitude and close to the shore when it was hit. The fact that NATO gave a cold shoulder to the Erdoğan government when it invoked article IV of the NATO Charter to consult the allies also indicated that NATO intelligence picked up on the plot by Erdoğan’s people. Therefore, the request by Turkey to set up safe zones in Syria with protective air cover was rejected.

It is worth noting that this special make RF-4E was designed to fly missions at home, not abroad. The software installed in RF-4E for its radar warning receiver (RWR) system did not include features that would detect threats that originated from Syria’s air defense systems. The mission database that was examined by the 173rd Squadron Command revealed that the RWR was defined against threats for domestic flights when an overseas mission for four jets was originally planned. The rulebook required that RF-4E’s software be upgraded with new threat identifications emanating from Syria, especially against surface to air missiles (SAM) SA-2 SA-4 and SA-5. Yet in a mysterious move, this was not done.

The flight was classified as a “special mission” and a “test flight” although the top brass in the military should have been alerted to the fact that the flight plan included a deliberate incursion into Syrian airspace. The Air Forces Command was not informed about the details of the flight, and the plot appears to have been concocted by the top political and military echelon, bypassing force commanders and staff generals. MİT’s Özkaya gave direct orders to the pilots such as flying on the same path on the last leg of the flight from point 4 to 5 twice that made the incursion into Syrian airspace. He also insisted on giving some details of the mission directly to the pilots, creating the impression at the Air Force Command that the mission was top secret and approved by the government and the Office of the Chief of General Staff.

Erdoğan was fully aware of the plot and in fact it was he who approved it in the first place. Rule H-150 in the Air Forces’ engagement playbook makes it clear that only the prime minister (Erdoğan) was authorized to make a decision in the case of incursion into another country’s airspace. The corroborating evidence to this information was found in the leaked emails of Berat Albayrak, energy minister and the son-in-law of President Erdoğan. The top secret document confirming that the Air Forces distorted the radar map after the downing of the RF-4E was obtained by a reporter named Mutlu Çölgeçen, who was working for the Sabah daily, a media outlet owned by Erdoğan’s family and run by Berat’s brother, Serhat. On Aug. 8, 2012 the reporter sent the document and details of the incident to Serhat, who then forwarded the documents to his brother Berat. The story was quickly buried and hushed up. That shows Erdoğan was in, knew the details and did not want to expose his government and create an embarrassment. Çölgeçen has been in pretrial detention on trumped-up charges for almost a year.

Considering the sensitivity of the flight as well as the vulnerability of the mission under possible threats, more qualified personal should have been included in drafting plans, assessing risks and outfitting the jet with upgrades. The Air Forces was already under pressure from keeping up with patrolling the airspace in the north against Russia, in the south against Greek Cyprus and in the west against Greece. It was overstretched when MİT ordered a secret mission to fly into Syrian airspace.

Mehmet Katar, a lawyer representing the family of Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy, one of the pilots killed in this incident, filed a criminal complaint on Dec. 21, 2012 against Turkish officials who were negligent in this botched mission. The family of Gökhan Erta later joined the complaint. The investigation was launched by the chief prosecutor in Malatya, where the airbase for RF-4 jets is located, but the case was later transferred to military prosecutors. In February 2014 an indictment was filed against officials, including intelligence chief Fidan, who were found to be negligent or have had complicity in the downing of the plane. The first hearing was held on Feb. 10, but a secrecy order was issued to keep the case from public scrutiny.

The case was hushed up and the families were not provided with closure on losing their loves ones. Even the autopsy reports of the pilots were not given to the families, suggesting that the government was doing everything to hide the details of the investigation from the public. The bodies of pilots were recovered on July 5, 2012 from the seabed 8.6 nautical miles off the Syrian coast after US ocean explorer Robert Ballard helped locate them using deep-sea exploration vessel the R/V Nautilus. At least they were able to bury their loved ones but were not given satisfactory information on what really happened in this incident or who sent them to certain death with poor planning, inadequate protection and illogical orders such as flying at a dangerously low altitude in Syrian airspace.

Perhaps we should be surprised at Erdoğan’s attempt to drag Turkey into a war with Syria. A leaked audio recording of a high-level security meeting at the Turkish Foreign Ministry about possible military action in Syria via a false flag operation in March 2014, acknowledged by Erdoğan as authentic, also revealed how far Turkish intelligence was willing to go to risk dragging NATO into an unwanted war in Syria. In the recording, senior officials including then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and MİT head Fidan discussed how Turkey could start a war with Syria, what the legal grounds would be to do so and if it would be possible to create a pretext to deliberately drag Turkey, and by extension NATO, into a war with Syria. They also discussed a false flag operation by having mortars fired into Turkey from Syria to ostensibly create the legal grounds for a war. There was no investigation launched into the allegations, but rather a probe was conducted into who leaked the recording.

Likewise, another false flag showed how the neo-nationalists in the Turkish military plotted to bring Turkey to the brink of war with Greece over the Aegean back in 2003. The plot, uncovered at the Naval Intelligence Department located at the Gölcük Naval Command, saw an escalation of the crisis with Greece by provoking conflict in the air, at sea and on land borders. The Oraj plan, dated February 2003, specifically asked for increased flights over the Aegean and ordered commanding officers to instruct pilots to engage in harassment maneuvers with Greek fighter jets. It wanted Turkish pilots to be more aggressive and even issued new rules of engagement allowing pilots to take shots at Greek fighters, albeit unofficially. The plan suggested reorganizing the special squadron with the specific objective of having a Turkish pilot shoot down a Turkish jet in his own squadron in the event all other efforts to provoke a Greek fighter to destroy a Turkish jet failed. Fabricated stories would then be planted in the media, saying that Greece intentionally shot down a Turkish jet.

The RF-4E incident follows previous examples of plots in Turkey. There is certainly a pattern of false flags that were concocted by elements attached to the Turkish intelligence, military and security services. Turkish President Erdoğan behaves like a non-state actor who loves playing dirty and bloodying his hands with these plots as long as he can keep advancing his political goals. He has become a major liability to the security of the NATO alliance.

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Erdoğan’s dangerous game of wooing Indian Muslims

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his brethren have been trying to woo controversial Indian Muslim clerics for some time now in their campaign to enlist fresh allies for expanding the global reach of Turkish political Islam that is fueled by the militant ideology of radical clerics clustered around the current government in Turkey.

The revival of the caliphate, a passionate subject among Indian Muslims, is being projected by Turkish government operatives to gain a foothold in the Indian Muslim community of some 180 million. Securing the allegiance of Indian Muslims would be an important as well as symbolic move for Erdoğan’s ambitions to portray himself as the de-facto leader of all Muslims worldwide. That is why Erdoğan’s henchmen have been busy exploiting the near perfect match between Turkish and Indian Islamists who love to entertain conspiracy theories to scapegoat others for their own failures, deflect criticism and avoid accountability and responsibility. The ultimate goal is to secure backers among Indian Muslims who can be mobilized for whatever political goal is set by Turkey’s top Islamist president.

Two prominent Indian figures appear to have emerged as the main conduits for Erdoğan’s people in their attempts to carve out spheres of influence in the Indian Muslim community. First, Sheik Salman Al-Husaini Al-Nadwi, a prominent figure who issued statements supporting Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), only to retract them after a backlash, appears to be a gateway for Erdoğan’s Islamists clergy to penetrate India. Nadwi, a staunch backer of Erdoğan, has offered comments praising him while disregarding major corruption investigations in billions of dollars that incriminated Erdoğan and his family members. Nadwi has also taken a stand against critics of the Turkish president without questioning the credibility of allegations and provided a carte blanche for Turkey’s oppressive ruler, who has locked up more than 50,000 people including 275 journalists in the last year alone on trumped-up charges.

Well, Nadwi is no foreigner when it comes to befriending oppressive Islamist rulers. In July 2014 he wrote a letter to the rulers of Saudi Arabia offering to raise a militia of 500,000 Sunni Muslim Indian youths to become part of a global Islamic army. He said they can be a fighting a force from Iraq to Syria or wherever needed to help Muslims. For a man like Erdoğan who has been investing in armed proxy groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya, this must be music to his ears. He may very well take Nadwi up on this offer.

Erdoğan appears to be dangling the idea of reestablishing the caliphate, once located in Turkey under Ottoman rule, to attract Indian Muslim figures such as Nadwi who, like many in the Indian Muslim community, long to revitalize the defunct institution. In fact, in his letter to the Saudi government, Nadwi lambasted Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, saying he had “ripped apart the caliphate and ushered in an age of atheism” in collusion with the British.

Seizing the opportunity to make inroads into Indian Muslim groups, senior figures of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government have been busy promoting the caliphate debate in public discourse. A think tank called the South Asia Strategic Research Center (Güney Asya Stratejik Araştırmalar Merkezi or GASAM in Turkish) that was established by Ali Şahin, a Pakistani-educated Islamist who now serves in Erdoğan’s government as deputy minister for European Union affairs, functions as one of those gateways for channeling Erdoğan’s ideas on the matter.

According to an account provided by Indian and Pakistani academics who visited Şahin during a Turkish government-sponsored trip to Turkey in September 2016, the Turkish deputy minister said that “Muslim countries, Turkey and Middle Eastern countries must remove their borders as there were less disputes in the Ottoman era when the whole area was controlled by a single caliph.” He was pushing the caliphate idea to his guests in the government office. Şahin, who led GASAM until 2015 as chairman of the board of directors before assuming a government position, has been one of the henchmen for Erdoğan’s overtures to woo Indian Muslims. He tapped government resources to promote Islamist projects in South Asia and used Turkish diplomatic clout to export the AKP’s Islamist ideology. The Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB), a government agency that works as the long arm of Erdoğan, developed joint projects with GASAM catering specifically to India and Pakistan under the scheme of cultural and academic programs.

On May 14, 2016 GASAM organized a conference on the caliphate movement in India in Istanbul, featuring AKP deputy Zehra Taşkesenlioğlu and the prime minister’s chief advisor, Ömer Korkmaz. Interestingly enough, Nadwi’s son Yunus, who has been studying at Turkey’s Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakfı University – an institution of higher education that was set up upon a proposal from Erdoğan with generous support from the government — was also among the panelists. Yunus now acts as a liaison between Turkish Islamists in Erdoğan’s inner circle and his father. During a visit to India on Nov. 12-25, 2016, Yunus was the guide for two Turkish academics, Hamdi Arslan and Serdar Demirel, and introduced them to the larger Indian Muslim community groups. Both Arslan and Demirel, Erdoğan loyalist Islamist operatives, have been championing the deeper engagement with Indian Muslim leaders.

Arslan, a 61-year-old Saudi-educated cleric, is a lecturer at the same university where Yunus is studying, and he has visited India many times, establishing links to various Muslim figures.

Arslan also serves as a member of the High Advisory Board for the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH in Turkish), a pro-government charity organization that was accused of arms smuggling to jihadist groups in Syria according to United Nations Security Council documents. He has been advocating a view of reviving caliphate links to the Indian Muslim community. Arslan is also a member of the board of directors at the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), a Muslim Brotherhood-linked organization that was led by pro-Erdoğan imam Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a cleric who endorsed suicide bombings and armed rebellion in Syria.

Serdar Demirel, who has a special interest in the Indian Muslim community, is a Pakistani-educated professor of Islamic studies who works at İbn Haldun University, an institution that was set up by Erdoğan’s corrupt family foundation called the Service for Youth and Education Foundation of Turkey (TÜRGEV). Demirel has been writing for the radical religious Yeni Akit daily since 2005 and is known to be a staunchly anti-Western and anti-European Union figure. While he was in New Delhi in November 2016, he made a trip of almost 1,500 kilometers to Kalkota to personally join the Muslim protest rally against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over a uniform civil code proposal that was seen as violating Islamic divorce rules. He lamented that such a big protest gathering was not covered adequately in the Turkish media.

The second Indian Muslim cleric who established links with the Erdoğan government is Zakir Naik, a radical preacher who is facing an arrest warrant in India over unlawful activities and promoting religious hatred. His preaching, banned in India, Bangladesh, Canada and the United Kingdom, is believed to have inspired one of the terrorists who staged the deadly Dhaka attack on July 1, 2016 that killed 29 people including 18 foreigners. Naik met with IHH people in Istanbul as well as an extremist figure, Nureddin Yıldız, a family cleric of Erdoğan, during a visit to Turkey in May 2017 and delivered a speech at the Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), an Islamist group that is managed by Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan.

Yıldız is a highly controversial cleric in Turkey; yet, he has been giving lectures for TÜGVA as well as for the youth branches of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). He is linked to armed jihadist groups in Syria and he has been calling for a global jihad. In his scandalous remarks, he approved the marriage of underage girls as young as six, advocated a view that members of the Gülen movement, a civic group that is highly critical of Erdoğan on corruption and the Turkish government’s aiding and abetting armed jihadist groups, must be executed, hanged and their arms and legs cut off. In fact, just like the Dhaka attacker who was inspired by Naik’s speeches, an al-Qaeda-linked Turkish police officer who assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, on Dec. 19, 2016, was inspired by Yıldız. This dangerous cleric’s venomous preaching circle in Ankara’s Bayrampaşa district, a neighborhood from where Turkish jihadist groups drew recruits, continue to incite militants as of today. By the way, Yıldız has also developed ties with Nadwi. He was sitting next to Nadwi when the Indian cleric came to Turkey to deliver a speech at a conference in Turkey’s Antalya province in January 2016.

There are other Indian Muslim figures and groups that the Erdoğan government hopes to tap in order to shore up his support back home. This is part of a campaign to amplify a message to his core Islamist constituency that the global Muslim community is looking up to Erdoğan’s leadership. The Turkish Embassy in New Delhi as well as the consulates in Hyderabad and Mumbai have been laying the groundwork for this, scrambling diplomats and consular officials to make the rounds among Indian Muslims. The government is also funding and supporting parallel tracks that were pursued by front NGOs and institutions for that purpose. But no doubt it, when the time comes, Erdoğan will mobilize them for his political goals just like he has already started doing in Europe among Turkish and Muslim diaspora groups, which drew harsh criticism from the European Parliament (EP) on July 6, 2017, warning the Turkish government in a strongly worded resolution to refrain from such systematic efforts to mobilize the diaspora in EU member states.

The divisive political Islamist discourse of Erdoğan has destroyed democracy in Turkey with the rule of law suspended, fundamental rights trampled and Parliament rendered a rubberstamping body. It has turned Turkey, a country that used to follow a foreign policy of non-interference into other countries’ affairs, into an irrational state actor that is bent on exporting this extremist ideology abroad as part of regime change plots. It remains to be seen to what extent, if any, the Indian government would be willing to accommodate the nuisance of the Erdoğan government’s interference and encroachment on its sovereign affairs.

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