IHH, Al-Qaeda, and Turkey

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 26 January 2019

Mavi Marmara arrives at Sarayburnu port as people wave Turkish and Palestinian flags, 26 December 2010 [source]

An article posted on the website of IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation on 14 July 2006 told of a massive funeral ceremony in Istanbul for Shamil Basayev, an al-Qaeda-linked Chechen jihadist. The original article has been removed, though a cached version is currently available. To avoid this being lost, the article is reproduced below. Before that is a brief outline of the context.

IHH, founded in 1992 in Turkey, describes itself as a non-governmental organisation with a mission to “deliver humanitarian aid and protect the basic rights and freedom of people who are in difficulty”. Both aspects of this are open to challenge, and IHH’s claim to have “no connection with any sect, ideological movement, or political party” is simply untrue.

As early as 1996, IHH was listed by the CIA as being among the Islamic charities in Bosnia “with extremist ties”. The CIA said IHH had offices in Sarajevo itself, as well as in Zagreb, Croatia, and Vienna, Austria, where many of the Islamist “charities” feeding weapons and jihadists into Bosnia based themselves. IHH also had an office in Germany established by a member of the Refah (Welfare) Party, whose leader Necmettin Erbakan, had been elected Prime Minister, and who would be toppled by the Turkish military in a “post-modern coup” the next year.

IHH was linked to one terrorist state, Iran, whose operatives, both the Ministry of Intelligence (then-called VEVAK) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), built up a vast and powerful presence in Bosnia during the war. And to various terrorist groups, including from Algeria, presumably the Armed Islamic Group (GIA); al-Jama’a al-Islamiya, the Egyptian jihadi outfit run by the “Blind Shaykh” Umar Abdurrahman; and the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS).

IHH was connected to the web of Islamist “charities” operating in Bosnia, the CIA said, among them the notorious International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO); IIRO’s parent organisation, the Muslim World League (MWL); the Third World Relief Agency; the Saudi High Commission; and the Qatar Charitable Society. With the obvious exception, these “charities” were financed—at varying degrees of remove—by the Saudi state.

The Turkish government would raid the offices of IHH in December 1997 because of its suspicious activities, and IHH appears to have been tangled into the network helping Ahmed Ressam, who tried to bomb Los Angeles Airport (LAX) in December 1999. This was part of al-Qaeda’s “Millennium Plot”, which also had a Jordanian end, run by Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), the founder of the Islamic State (IS).

IHH had its wings clipped in the wake of 9/11 when the network of “charities” and individuals financing al-Qaeda and its subsidiaries and allies was placed under severe pressure by a U.S.-led international campaign.

IHH came to international attention after it helped organise the “freedom flotilla” in May 2010 to try to puncture the blockade against HAMAS. Israel prevented these ships reaching Gaza, mostly peacefully, except when it boarded IHH’s ship, the Mavi Marmara, unprepared for an attempt to lynch its soldiers and responded clumsily with live fire, killing nine IHH operatives.

In the aftermath, attention was drawn to IHH’s parent coalition, the Union of Good, a fairly open laundering shop for funds to HAMAS. The former French investigating judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, who brought Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (“Carlos the Jackal”) to book, stated bluntly that IHH “is a terror organisation and not a charity group”. Bruguiere added: “[IHH] were basically helping al-Qaeda when [Usama] bin Ladin started to want to target U.S. soil.” Bruguiere linked IHH not only to Ressam but Fateh Kamel, who had planned attacks in France in 1999, and said the group served as a front to move men and materiel for the jihadists between Bosnia and Afghanistan.

The lawyer who heads IHH, Fehmi Bülent Yıldırım, was apparently investigated in Turkey for links to al-Qaeda’s financial operations. After Bin Ladin was killed in May 2011, IHH released a statement denouncing it as “American terrorism”.

The big question became: How close is IHH to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government?

Despite the denials of any IHH-AKP link from Ankara, it is clear that the flotilla could not have proceeded if the Turkish government wished to stop it. IHH certainly provides political support to Erdogan’s government, and there is an overlap in membership between IHH and Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), notably Zeyd Aslan, an AKP MP and IHH founder, plus Ahmet Faruk Unsal and Mehmet Emin Sen.

The story of Shamil Basayev’s funeral in Turkey adds crucial context to this. Basayev has a very interesting history, having worked both sides of the insurgency in Russia before he was killed on 10 July 2006. As IHH’s website described it, their director, Bülent Yıldırım, addressed a crowd of tens of thousands around the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, praising Basayev and condemning the Russians and—since he claimed they were helping Moscow—the Israelis. An event as large and politically sensitive as this does not come about unless it has at least tacit official endorsement. Doubtless such a green light was politicking and instrumentalisation, more than it is ideological sympathy, but it is still ugly and dangerous.

IHH’s links to Turkish officialdom have become rather clearer since 2011, since which time it has acted as a virtual extension of Turkish state policy in Syria, including moving weapons and money as part of the Ankara-aligned Muslim Brotherhood’s early strategy of trying to co-opt pre-existing Syrian rebel groups by creating dependencies.

The police raids against IHH in January 2014, using accusations of supporting terrorism, resulted in police chiefs being fired by Erdogan. This is not entirely clear-cut since the Turkish police—and judiciary—were at that time in the hands of the Gülenists, an Islamist cult that had helped solidify AKP rule, but were by then-engaged in a power struggle with Erdogan. One of the Gülenists’ primary means of political warfare against opponents within the state was fabricating evidence of crimes; first they witch-hunted the secular generals with accusations of coup plots and later they spread disinformation that Erdogan was supporting terrorists like al-Qaeda and IS in Syria.

[UPDATE] When Islamist protesters—covering the spectrum from pro- to anti-Erdogan—gathered in Istanbul on 14 May 2018 to protest the U.S. decision to move her Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, IHH took a leading role. Among the slogans IHH used were: “We came with Mavi Marmara, next we will come with our planes.” Turkey’s secular parties stayed away from this demonstration, but all condemned the American move.


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Turkey Pays Homage to Basayev

Funeral prayer performed for Shamil Basayev, who was killed in Chechen fight against Russia, in his absence. Tens of thousands of people attended the funeral prayer performed at Istanbul’s Fatih Mosque

14 July 2006



Funeral prayer was performed in Istanbul for Chechen leader Shamil Basayev, who was killed by Russian forces on July 10, 2006. He had fought for Chechens against the Russian military for 15 years, struck a huge blow to Russia forces in Caharkale, took part in a score of operations and had forced Russians to negotiate with Chechens. Although there are speculations about how he was killed, Basayev had devoted his life to Islam and had fought for years for the honor of Muslims. We pray to Allah to put him among martyrs next our prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him).

A large crowd paid farewell to the martyr at Fatih Mosque. Tens of thousands of Muslims performed funeral prayer for Basayev and other martyrs killed during their fight against oppressors after Friday prayer at Fatih Mosque.

Following the prayer, attendees recited prayers and shed tears for Basayev and other martyrs. IHH chairman Bülent Yıldırım addressed to the attendees saying: “Sinister Putin called Turkey after the death of Basayev and asked what they could do for Palestine. We know that his real intention is to suppress the reaction of Muslims against Russia over the death of Basayev. The whole world united and helped Russia to kill Basayev as they did to exterminate Dudayev in the past. Israel is advising Russia to build a fence in Chechnya to eliminate Chechen threat as it did in Palestine. Russia has applied to become a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). Chechens, however, are asking Muslims countries how they could accept a country that has so far killed over 300,000 people, 46,000 of them children, to the OIC. Basayev had previously sent letters to heads of Muslims states saying what was happening in Chechnya and calling on them to stop Russia. If Muslim leaders had opposed Russia then, so many civilians would have not been killed in Chechnya.”

The crow frequently interrupted the speaker shouting slogans like “We are following you Basayev. Murderer Russia, get out of Chechnya! Murderer Israel, get out of Palestine! Murderer Israel, get out of Lebanon! Murderer the United States, get out of the Middle East! Salute Hamas, continue resistance!” Attendees burned down Russian and Israeli flags as well.

All attendees were moved by longs prayers recited after speeches. The crow recited prayers and shed tears for the unity of Muslims and for an end to killings worldwide. Attendees dispersed peacefully after the funeral prayer.


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POSTSCRIPT: The U.S. Treasury designated Ahmed Luqman Talib as an Al-Qaeda “facilitator” for having “materially assisted” the network. Talib, who lives in Australia, has provided “assistance in the movement of individuals … in furtherance of Al-Qaeda’s objectives” and “is involved in dealing gemstones, which provide him with the ability to move funds internationally for the benefit of Al-Qaeda”, Treasury explained, adding that “Talib conducts business around the world, including in Brazil, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Turkey, and the Gulf.” Talib’s company, Talib and Sons, a gemstone business based in Melbourne, was also designated by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Talib was one of the men who was injured while attacking Israeli soldiers aboard the Mavi Marmara, a ship belonging to IHH, whose conduct during the flotilla episode was even flagged by the United Nations.

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