Turkey's Approach to Countering Terrorism

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Turkey maintains open relations with internationally sanctioned extremist groups and harbors internationally sanctioned and wanted extremists affiliated with the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas. Taliban officials maintain a presence in Turkey, while several Brotherhood leaders sought refuge there after the collapse of the Brotherhood government in Egypt. Hamas has operated a bureau in Istanbul since 2012.

Turkey has not devoted the appropriate resources to monitoring the financial workings of its non-profit sector, according to the U.S. Department of State. In particular, the NGO Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation faces international accusations of aiding Syrian rebel forces, al-Qaeda, and Hamas.

Turkish financial institutions, with support of Turkish officials, have aided in skirting U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Overview

Longtime U.S. ally Turkey—a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS and NATO—has supported and harbored international terrorist organizations and individuals. The Turkish government has lent support to the Muslim Brotherhood, * Hamas, * and Syrian rebel groups. * Turkey continues to harbor members of the Muslim Brotherhood who sought refuge in the country after the 2015 fall of the Brotherhood government in Egypt. *

According to the U.S. Department of State, Turkey is host to terrorist organizations with links to narcotics trafficking. As such, the U.S. government has declared Turkey “vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist finance risks.” * Further, the Turkish government has allowed terror-linked charities to operate within the country. Most prominently, the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) has been linked to al-Qaeda, * Hamas, * Syrian rebel groups, * and foreign fighters in Chechnya, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. *

Direct Funding and Government Support

The Turkish government has provided direct funding and support for various extremist organizations operating within the country. These groups include the Taliban, the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, * the Muslim Brotherhood, * and Hamas. * The Turkish government has allowed members of these groups to openly reside in the country, as well as address government officials and functions.

Taliban

The Taliban is an Afghanistan- and Pakistan-based jihadist insurgent group that has carried out numerous deadly terrorist attacks in the region, including the shooting of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan’s Swat Valley in October 2012, the December 2015 assault on Kandahar Air Field which left 50 dead, and the December 2014 massacre at the army-run school in Peshawar that killed 148 people, 132 of whom were schoolchildren. Taliban insurgents and ISIS militants in eastern Afghanistan have cooperated against the Afghan government since mid-2016. The Haqqani network is a militant branch of the Afghan Taliban operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, though it operates independently. Since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the Haqqani network has been a lethal and sophisticated arm of the Afghan insurgency against the Western-backed government in Kabul.

Taliban Designated by:

Canada, EU, France, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Russia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States

Haqqani network designated by:

United Nations, United States

Turkish Support:

Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood—founded in Egypt in 1928—is a transnational Islamist organization with branches worldwide. In the 1950s, Brotherhood theologian Sayyid Qutb legitimized the use of violent jihad—and the killing of secular Muslims—in order to implement sharia. Analysts argue that the Brotherhood’s ideology has spawned groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Designated by:

Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates

Turkish Support:

Hamas

The ruling terror party of the Gaza Strip, Hamas openly seeks the destruction of Israel. The group uses suicide bombings, rocket and mortar attacks, shootings, and kidnappings in pursuit of its stated objectives.

Designated by:

Australia, Canada, Egypt, EU, Israel, Japan, Jordan, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States

Turkish Support:

Harboring Terrorist Leaders and Financiers

Turkey harbors internationally designated and wanted extremist leaders.

Amr Darrag
Senior Muslim Brotherhood Member

Mahmoud Hussein
Former Secretary-General of the Muslim Brotherhood, former Member of the Shura Council

Talaat Fahmi
Spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood

Ahmed Abdel Rahman
Head of the Egyptian Brotherhood’s Office for Egyptians Abroad

Gula Khan Hamidi
Haqqani Network Member

  • In January 2018, the U.S. government sanction-designated Hamidi for assisting in or providing financial, material, or technological support to the Haqqani network. The government accused Hamidi of facilitating the travel of Haqqani members from Pakistan to Turkey. *
  • Allegedly facilitated the travel of foreign fighters through Turkey. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Hamidi “facilitated the movement of two groups of foreign fighters to Turkey from Pakistan” in 2013 and also “coordinated the travel of al Qaeda and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan associates to Turkey” in October 2014. *
  • Allegedly operates in Istanbul, Turkey, as well as Afghanistan. *

Abdul Rauf
Purported Leader of the Taliban Delegation in Turkey

Zaher Jabarin
Hamas financial manager, recruiter, senior military commander

Government Support

The Turkish government has allowed terror-linked charities to operate within the country. The German, Israeli, and Russian governments have accused Turkish NGOs of providing material support to extremist groups. * Further, the United States has indicted Turkish financial institutions and citizens for evading U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Turkiye Halk Bankasi A.S.

Turkiye Halk Bankasi A.S., a.k.a. Halkbank, is a Turkish state-owned bank whose majority shareholder is the government of Turkey. In October 2019, the United States charged the bank with fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offenses related to the bank’s participation in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. According to then-Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, Halkbank “allegedly conspired to undermine the United States Iran sanctions regime by illegally giving Iran access to billions of dollars’ worth of funds, all while deceiving U.S. regulators about the scheme.” * Defendant-turned-government-witness Reza Zarrab testified that he paid over $50 million in bribes to Turkey’s finance minister as part of the scheme. * Halkbank has pled not guilty to the charges. In October 2020, a U.S. federal judge dismissed a Halkbank claim that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act protected it against prosecution. * In February 2021, a group of 876 victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. court against Halkbank, alleging the bank helped Iran avoid the financial consequences of its support for terrorism. A Manhattan federal court dismissed the case, arguing it could be settled in a Turkish court. *

As part of the Halkbank investigation, U.S. authorities have charged Zarrab and eight other Turkish citizens for exporting gold in exchange for Iranian oil, in violation of U.S. sanctions, and using a series of front companies, false documentation, and bribes to make illegal transactions through U.S. banks. * In October 2017, Zarrab signed a plea deal with federal prosecutors to act as a government witness. U.S. authorities arrested Zarrab in March 2016 when he arrived in the United States for a family trip to Disney World with $100,000 in cash. * In March 2017, U.S. authorities arrested Mehmet Hakkan Atilla, the former deputy general manager of Halkbank, on charges of conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions law, defraud the United States, and commit money laundering and bank fraud, as well as a charge of bank fraud. * Atilla was convicted in January 2018. * Turkish authorities initially investigated the scheme in 2013, but dropped the case after pressure from Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who argued the investigation was part of a coup attempt against the government. * Erdoğan condemned Atilla’s conviction as “scandalous,” but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan concluded in July 2020 Atilla had received a fair trial. * Atilla was sentenced to 32 months in prison but released in July 2019 and deported to Turkey. Despite his conviction, Atilla was named the head of Turkey’s stock exchange in October 2019. *

Links to Terrorism

 

 

Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation

The Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (“İHH İnsani Yardım Vakfı,” or IHH) is a Turkey-based international charity established in 1992 to aid Bosnian Muslims. IHH is active in more than 100 countries. * The charity stands accused of ties to al-Qaeda, Hamas, and foreign fighters in Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. *

Links to Terrorism

Snapshot of Qatari Counterterrorism Legislation and Initiatives

Definition of Terrorism: Following the March 13, 2016, bombing in central Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded that the definition of “terrorist” be expanded to include those who support terrorism. According to Erdoğan, such individuals might include activists, lawmakers, or journalists. * He said: “Their titles as an MP, an academic, an author, a journalist do not change the fact that they are actually terrorists. An act of terror is successful because of these supporters, these accomplices.” *

Anti-Money Laundering/Countering Terrorism Finance (AML/CTF): Turkey is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Within Turkey’s Ministry of Finance is the Financial Intelligence Unit (MASAK), which cooperates with similar international agencies to support FATF and implement its recommendations. * According to the U.S. Department of State, the Turkish government does not regularly review its non-profit sector or provide “adequate anti-money laundering/CFT outreach or guidance.” * More than 5,500 foundations and 100,000 associations are licensed through the General Director of Foundations, but there are too few auditors to appropriately monitor compliance with AML/CFT regulations. The State Department further believes that Turkey has focused its CTF efforts primarily on the PKK and the Gullen movement. *

Countering Violent Extremism: Turkey has several government programs to counter extremism. One is an outreach program administered by the Turkish National Police (TNP) that seeks to prevent radicalization through early contact with at-risk communities. This program aims to reach vulnerable populations before they are exposed to extremist propaganda and messages. The government’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, the Diyanet, oversees 85,000 mosques in the country while promoting a more moderate version of Islam and weakening radical Islamist messaging. The Diyanet tries to accomplish this aim by reinterpreting religious texts and teaching religious education under a more modern framework, and by staffing mosques with Diyanet officials. *

Policy Prescriptions

In order to better combat terrorism and terrorist financing, Turkey will need to fully enforce its own counterterrorism policies and increase the resources devoted to monitoring and countering terrorism financing, in particular within the non-profit sector.

Specifically, the United States must incentivize Ankara to:

  • Arrest or expel all wanted and internationally designated individuals inside its borders, including the seven people outlined by CEP’s TURKEY-HARBORS campaign
  • Expel or arrest all members of the Taliban, Haqqani network, Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas delegations currently residing or operating inside Turkey
  • Halt all direct support—financial, material, and strategic—to internationally designated terrorist organizations
  • Allocate appropriate resources to government oversight of the financial aid non-profit sectors to prevent abuse by criminal and extremist elements
  • Investigate and close non-government organizations, financial institutions, and charities with ties to international extremist movements

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

In Their Own Words:

God forbid, if a time comes when we have no choice but to watch our citizens breathe their final breaths, and when there are no ventilators… we will make six million Israeli settlers unable to breathe.

Yahya Sinwar, Leader of Hamas in Gaza Apr. 2, 2020
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