The former chief of the Istanbul Police Department Intelligence Unit, Ali Fuat Yilmazer, is making headlines in Turkey by claiming that the highest levels of government are in cahoots with Iranian intelligence and a terrorist group it sponsors.
According to Yilmazer, Iranian intelligence and one of its terrorist proxies, Tawhik-Salam, are collaborating secretly with senior Turkish officials. He said that a police investigation confirmed this fact, and that if the files ever become public, “We’ll see how a foreign government can act comfortably in Turkey.”
He said that Tawhik-Salam is “the stealthiest and most dangerous terrorist organization of recent times.” Turkish police have been investigating the group since 1996. That year, a member of the group was arrested for murdering two Iranian dissidents. The group is also believed to have killed several journalists and intellectuals and U.S., Saudi and Israeli diplomats.
It is reported that Turkish police discovered members of the group conducting surveillance on the U.S. Consulate in October 2010 and delivering the data to Iranian intelligence for a potential terrorist attack. It also was behind a bombing near the Israeli Consulate in 2011.
The ex-wife of a Tawhik-Salam cell claims that the group also gathered intelligence on the Nuclear Research Institute in Istanbul and military units for Iran. She says he also passed along classified information and met Turkey’s intelligence chief Hakan Fidan several times and was in regular contact with other Turkish officials.
Yilmazer’s accusation is backed up by detailed documentation leaked online via Twitter shortly before the March 30 municipal elections. The Erdogan government banned Twitter weeks before the elections took place. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) won around 45% of the vote, putting the Iran-backed Hamas terrorist group in a state of jubilance.
The very detailed documents purportedly show that Fidan, Interior Minister Efkan Ala and Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay all have secret relationships with Tawhik-Salam. If true, it would help explain why a member of the terrorist group arrested in 1996 was released in 2004 and Turkey’s overall move towards Iran.
Long before these revelations, experts warned about the pro-Iran bent of Fidan. The Israeli Defense Minister bluntly called him a “friend of Iran” and Israeli officials privately nicknamed him the “station chief in Ankara” for Iranian intelligence.
The leaked files indicate that Fidan first came into contact with Iranian operatives during visits to Shiite study groups in Ankara in the 1990s. A wiretap on his communications from June 18, 2012 shows that he provided Iran’s Al-Quds Force, the most elite arm of the Revolutionary Guards, with insight into private cabinet meetings.
Interior Minister Efkan Ala allegedly started working with the Iranian terror network when he was an undersecretary for the Prime Minister as part of a cell overseen by an Iranian agent of influence named Burhan Kavuncu, whose son is an advisor to Erdogan. The Interior Minister joined Erdogan for a visit to Iran in 2013 and met with Supreme Leader Khamenei and was presented with a prayer stone.
The third senior official targeted in the Tawhik-Salam investigation is Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay. The leaked documents state that Besir was a fan of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran; so much so that he traveled to Iran in the 1980s for commemorations of it. Atalay was even arrested in 1983 by Turkish police and they found pro-Khomeini propaganda in his home. Atalay is said to have used his position in academia to promote pro-Khomeini views and to get sympathizers hired at the university he worked for until 1997.
Another suspect in the police investigation into Tawhik-Salam is Faruk Koca, a founder of Erdogan’s Islamist political party. The reports indicate that he named his son after Ayatollah Khomeini and rented a house to Erdogan that was later discovered to be bugged. His café is said to be a secret meeting place for Fidan and two Al-Quds force operatives named Hakki Selcuk Sanlii (who helped set up the Tawhik-Salam network) and Sayed Ali Akbar Mir Vekili, a Quds Force commander.
The allegations are reminiscent of another scandal that rocked Turkey last year involving Iranian-supported corruption.
Turkish police arrested dozens of people linked to the Erdogan government in December 2013 as part of a corruption investigation. One of those was the CEO of Helbank, who was accused of taking bribes from an Iranian businessman. Three other ministers in Erdogan’s cabinet were also bribed through this Iranian.
The dealings led to violations of international sanctions on Iran. The Turks would buy Iranian natural gas and oil and then the Iranians would use the Turkish currency they received to pay for gold purchases from Turkey. It had to be done this way because sanctions prevented transactions in dollars and euros. An estimated $13 billion of gold was purchased, while others put the number much higher at almost $120 billion.
The latest links do not directly tie Erdogan to Iranian intelligence or the Tawhik-Salam terrorist network, but it’s too early to rule out some kind of backdoor deal. As mentioned before, an important member of the group named Abdulhamit Celik was released from prison in 2004 even though he admitted in court that the Iranians trained him to commit acts of terrorism.
It is also now known that Erdogan passed secret U.S. intelligence to Iran and told the Iranian regime in early 2012 about 10 Iranians meeting with Israeli intelligence in Turkey. The Wall Street Journal said it “dealt a significant blow to Israeli intelligence gathering.”
The bottom line is this: Turkey is moving fast and hard towards Iran. Erdogan’s government is violating the stated purpose of NATO as the West refuses to wake up to the reality that Turkey is no longer functioning as an ally.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.