The Turkish government, ostensibly a NATO “ally,” has been forced to admit that its intelligence service funneled arms to Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. The so-called “moderate” Islamist government has been caught in a long cover-up and is threatening to shut down social media outlets that don’t block the reporting of the scandal.
The scandal began goes back to 2013 when Turkish police searched trucks headed to Syria to deliver weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.
On November 7, 2013, Turkish police stopped a convoy of three trucks supposedly delivering humanitarian aid to Syria. The convoy was led by personnel from the country’s MIT intelligence service. The police found 935 mortar shells inside the convoy, believed to be headed for Jabhat al-Nusra.
The MIT personnel told the police that they had no authority to search the truck and a tense standoff followed that almost turned into a brawl. It ended when the governor of the province intervened and sent a threatening message to the police. It said, “M?T personnel works in direct connection with the Prime Ministry and their detention requires punishment.”
The public prosecutor who authorized the search, Ozcan Sisman, subsequently filed a complaint accusing the government of obstruction of justice. He and five other prosecutors involved in investigating various arms shipments to Syria were suspended earlier this month. Thirteen soldiers are also facing espionage charges.
Two similar incidents happened on January 1 and January 19, 2014.
On January 1, the Turkish police stopped a truck headed to Syria supposedly with humanitarian supplies. It was believed to be owned by the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), an organization closely linked to Turkish President Erdogan (who was then Prime Minister) and linked to Hamas. The police found weapons inside and IHH said it had no connection to the vehicle.
The driver said he worked for MIT and tried to stop the search. A thorough search was again prevented on the governor’s orders. The involved police officers were reassigned. Chiefs and deputy chiefs in the Hatay Province’s Terror and Organized Crime Department had the same done to them.
On January 19, the Turkish police searched seven trucks delivering supplies to Syria. Two vehicles had ammunition inside and one had weaponry. A separate car following the trucks belonged to MIT.
According to one of the other suspended prosecutors, Aziz Takci, the vehicles used in these two incidents were owned by the government and officials were involved in their shipments but these facts were left out of court filings.
At around the same time in January 2014, Turkish police arrested 23 people in raids on IHH for allegedly being involved with Al-Qaeda. The responsible police chief was fired and the Deputy Prime Minister condemned the raids. Two involved police officers were fired, as were bodyguards for eight involved prosecutors.
Now, one year later, government documents have leaked online proving that the Turkish intelligence service was orchestrating the arms deliveries to Al-Nusra. One report from the Gendarmerie General Command flatly states, “The trucks were carrying weapons and supplies to the al-Qaeda terror organization.”
In September, the former U.S. ambassador to Turkey said Erdogan’s government had been working with Al-Nusra and other Islamist extremist groups like Ahrar al-Sham, a group linked to Al-Qaeda. He said that Turkey resisted American pressure to stop the support and to prevent their use of the Turkish-Syrian border.
In December, a United Nations report confirmed that arms continue to reach Al-Nusra and the Islamic State through the Turkish border. It did not state whether the Turkish government is actively involved in those shipments. Erdogan’s government rejected the report’s conclusion.
The Turkish media has been banned from reporting on the arms shipments after new documents leaked out, citing national security. Google Plus and Facebook caved. Twitter responded by deleting some posts about the al-Nusra scandal but refused to block the newspaper’s account.
Erdogan is using a law that says the Prime Minister’s approval is required for an investigation into MIT personnel and public officials following his orders. His opposition sees this as confirmation that the MIT arms shipments were following Erdogan’s instructions.
“You can take these trucks illegally all the way to Syria. But their journey will not end there. They will carry this government and a lot of public servants to the court in The Hague as war criminals. But those tried there will not just be individuals, but the Republic of Turkey,” said one opposition leader.
Turkey’s Drift Away from Democracy
The cover-up is part of a pattern where Erdogan and his Islamist allies continuously move in an anti-Western, anti-democratic direction as they solidify their grip on power.
Freedom House says that Erdogan’s government is overseeing “an increasingly aggressive campaign against democratic pluralism." Its new report says:
"He openly demanded that media owners censor coverage or fire critical journalists, told the Constitutional Court he does not respect its rulings, threatened reporters (and rebuked women journalists) and ordered radical, even bizarre changes to the school curriculum. Having risen from the premiership to the presidency in August, he formed a 'shadow cabinet' that allows him to run the country from the presidential palace, circumventing constitutional rules and the ministries of his own party's government.”
In March 2013, Erdogan vowed to “eradicate” Twitter as part of his campaign to squash social media. The U.S. State Department described the temporary blocking of social media as “21st century book burning.”
He was apparently aware of what was about to come. Massive protests soon erupted against the Turkish government’s suppression of freedom. Erdogan and his party successfully put down these demonstrations and went on to win the presidency and local elections, thanks to a mixture of growing Islamist sentiment and an unfair playing field.
In December 2013, a massive corruption probe began with police arresting dozens of Erdogan allies, including some high-level officials involved in underhanded dealings with Iran. Erdogan and his inner circle are accused of spending $140 million in bribes.
Leaks also revealed that top officials are collaborating with Iranian intelligence and a terrorist group linked to the Iranian regime. The documents’ allegations are substantiated by the former chief of the Istanbul Police Department Intelligence Unit.
A new recording has leaked of Erdogan talked on the phone with his son on the day of the first corruption investigation raids. Erdogan told his son to get rid of $1 billion in cash stored in their home. Erdogan says the recording is fake but the public prosecutor says the recording is from a legitimate wiretap authorized as part of the investigation.
The overseeing public prosecutor was fired. According to Freedom House, the Erdogan government has changed the positions of 45,000 police officers and 2,500 judges and prosecutors over the past year as part of this purge.
Recordings were then leaked proving that the Turkish government is trying to control the media. The allegation is supported by the former editor-in-chief of the Hurriyet newspaper who said, ““We need to underline that the Turkish press is no longer doing investigative reporting.”
According to one opposition figure, almost 900 journalists were fired due to state pressure last year and 21 were imprisoned. He claims that 217 were beaten.
There were also efforts seize control of the court system and the Internet. Legislation was passed that allowed the Turkish government to block websites without judicial oversight on vague national security grounds. The content that was predictably blocked was criticism of the government and reporting on the Turkish government’s corruption and involvement with terrorists.
On October 2, the Constitutional Court overturned the Internet censorship legislation. The Turkish government is pursuing a new law that will permit a one-day ban on websites that can be extended with a judge’s approval.
Expect the Turkish government to look for ways to seize control of the Constitutional Court. In the meantime, it is using favorable judges and police forces to its advantage.
One court is requiring Facebook to block posts denigrating the Prophet Mohammed and is threatening to completely block the social media site in the country if it fails to do so. A new round of arrests of journalists has just happened. Police are even arresting teenagers who “insult” Erdogan.
A bipartisan group of two dozen members of Congress have signed a letter calling on the Treasury Department to sanction entities in Turkey providing material support to the Hamas terrorist group.
The Clarion Project has consistently documented Turkey’s involvement with terrorism and promotion of Islamist extremism. It is arguably the biggest ally of the Muslim Brotherhood and Erdogan is suggesting that the terrorist attacks in Paris are part of a secret Western conspiracy against Islam. Top officials and clerics are encouraging vile anti-Semitism.
These are not the actions of an authentic NATO “ally.” The NATO website does not identify a process to kick Turkey out of the alliance. It’s about time that we come up with one.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.