The Turkish parliament is considering authorizing military action against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. will welcome such a development, but it must not forget Turkey’s previous support of Al Qaeda in Syria, deal-making with the Islamic State (ISIS), hosting of Hamas terrorists and embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood.
A Turkish group closely linked to Turkish President Recep Erdogan even signed up human shields for Hamas. Intelligence leaks reveal that top Turkish officials are secretly collaborating with Iran-linked terrorists, a development in line with Turkey’s drift towards Iran in spite of their historic rivalry and backing of opposite sides in Syria.
Erdogan’s time as leader of Turkey has resulted in sharply increased anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and overall hostility to the West. A Pew poll of 11 Muslim countries found that Turkey is the only one where support for suicide bombing is increasing, more than doubling from 7% in 2011 to 16% now.
Nor should the U.S. forget the Turkish government’s increasingly autocratic governance, anti-Western incitement and crackdown on social media. Turkey is also rated as the number one jailer of journalists, even beating out China and North Korea for the title.
This anti-Western activity has only increased in recent months.
Turkey and Qatar, another supposed “ally” supporting the Islamist cause and financing Islamic terrorists, agreed to form a “supreme strategic cooperation council.” Turkey is expected to provide support for Qatari military and security forces. Qatar hosts over 200 members of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Former U.S. ambassador to Turkey confirmed that Turkey has supported Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria and Ahrar al-Sham, another Al-Qaeda linked group in Syria and ignored U.S. protests about this support. The free flow of personnel and weapons from Turkey to Syrian jihadists contributed to the rise of the Islamic State.
Turkey initially did not join the coalition against the Islamic State, since the Islamic State was holding 49 Turks hostage since raiding a diplomatic facility in Iraq in June. They were freed on September 20, after which talk of Turkish military action against the Islamic State started.
Erdogan would not say what deal was struck with the Islamic State to free the hostages, thereby incentivizing future hostage-takings. However, when asked if there was a prisoner exchange, he said, “Such things may be possible” and pointed to Israel’s prisoner exchanges with terrorists.
That’s obviously part of what happened, though Turkey may have conceded even more than that. A Syrian rebel group linked to Turkey named Liwa al-Tawhid, which broke away from the Free Syria Army, released 50 members of the Islamic State, including the family of a leader that was killed in Aleppo.
Turkey has long been accused of assisting the Islamic State, or at least turning a blind eye to the group. Online Islamic State supporters often talk of their open presence in the country, even in Istanbul. Here’s an example:
Newsweek confirmed that ISIS is openly recruiting in the Istanbul area. Minibuses were even bringing recruits to Syria. Approximately 3,000 Turks are believed to have joined the terrorist group.
The New York Times likewise reported that areas near Ankara had also become Islamic State recruiting centers. In one example, an Islamic State regional commander in Raqqa, Syria was able to move back and forth to Turkey to rally recruits. Locals testified that the authorities were not taking action even when known Islamic State members were in the area.
CNBC reporter David L. Philips wrote that Turkey began materially supporting the Islamic State in 2012 through the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a Turkish charity linked to Hamas. He mentioned how Turkish police who intercepted IHH weapons shipments to Syria were retaliated against. Philips also reported that Erdogan’s son works closely with IHH.
Hamas is sponsored by Turkey, as well. At least a dozen Hamas operatives in Turkey oversaw the terrorist campaign that led to Operation Protective Edge, including the kidnapping and murdering of three Israeli teenagers. This same network used Turkey to plot an overthrow of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
The Erdogan government has also come to the rescue of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ parent organization. The Qatari government asked seven Brotherhood leaders to leave their country to alleviate intense pressure from its Arab neighbors. Turkey welcomed them.
At least three Brotherhood leaders arrived in Turkey: Jamal Abdul Sattar, the deputy leader of the Egyptian Religious Affairs Directorate when the Brotherhood ran Egypt; foreign relations officer Amr Darrag and ultra-extremist cleric Wagdy Ghoneim.
Ghoneim was arrested by the U.S. in 2004 because of evidence linking him to Hamas financing. He left the country and moved to Egypt to work under the Brotherhood. He declared his support for the Islamic State, while acknowledging his disagreements with the group, and said Muslims should ally with it against the “Crusader alliance.”
His preaching is anti-Semitic and he praised Osama Bin Laden as a “hero” after he was killed. Ghoneim wants liberal, modernist and secular Muslims to be prosecuted. He threatened Egypt’s Coptic Christians with violence for supporting the revolution against then-President Morsi.
Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas indirectly supports other terrorists:
A founder of Egyptian Islamic Jihad says that an Egyptian group linked to Al-Qaeda named the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) is financed by the Brotherhood and Hamas. Weaponry arrives through Libya and underground tunnels from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to Egypt. Brotherhood opponents insist that ABM is the Brotherhood’s “military wing” in Egypt.
He said that the alliance was formed under Egyptian President Morsi and was finalized by Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat el-Shater and Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s brother, Mohamed, who lives in Egypt.
A senior ABM commander admits that the Islamic State is giving it online teaching on creating secret cells and carrying out terrorist attacks against the Egyptian government.
At the same time, the Turkish government continues to move further and further away from democracy and freedom.
A 38-page Human Rights Watch report released on September 29 documents the government’s “far-reaching steps to weaken the rule of law, control the media and the Internet, and clamp down on critics and protestors.”
The most dramatic move recently is the adoption of an amendment to legislation overseeing the internet. It gives the Telecommunications Directorate, a body controlled by President Erdogan, the responsibility of reviewing political content on websites. It can block any material that it alone considers to be a threat to stability and security, vague terms that will surely be abused by the government.
All of this behavior by the Turkish government violates the basis of NATO, yet its membership in the alliance is not being questioned. Its website states, “NATO promotes democratic values and encourages consultation and cooperation on defense and security issues to build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict.”
Thus far, the West has treated this truth as too bitter of a pill to swallow. For the sake of human rights and the fight against Islamist extremism, the West must accept that the Turkey of today is not the Turkey that was originally given NATO membership and act accordingly.
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 Fox News.