In theory, Turkey is part of the international coalition that fights the Islamic State (IS). Since it joined the fight last year, it has arrested scores of IS militants, made some efforts to seal its porous border with Syria and tagged IS as a terrorist organization. Turkish police have raided homes of suspected IS operatives. More recently, Turkey’s Interior Ministry updated its list of «wanted terrorists» to include 23 IS militants, and offered rewards of more than 42 million Turkish liras (more than $14 million) for any information leading to the suspects’ capture. But this is only part of the story.
On March 24, a Turkish court released seven members of IS, including the commander of the jihadists’ operations on Turkish soil. A total of 96 suspects are on trial, including the seven men who were detained but released. All are free now, although the indictment against them claims that they
«engaged in the activities of the terrorist organization called DAESH [Arabic acronym of IS]. The suspects had sent persons to the conflict zones; they applied pressure, force, violence and threats by using the name of the terrorist organization, and they had provided members and logistic support for the group.»
The release of terror suspects came in sharp contrast with another court decision that ruled for a trial, but while under detention, for four academics who had signed a petition calling for peace in Turkey’s Kurdish dispute. Unlike the IS militants, the academics remain behind bars.
The Turkish government, which controls the judiciary almost in its entirety, relies on Islamist grassroots supporters of various flavors — from Islamists and ‘lite jihadists’ to radicals.
Last year the Turkish pollster MetroPOLL found that one in every five Turks thought that the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris was the natural response to people who insulted Prophet Mohammed [only 16.4% of Turks thought of the incident as an attack on freedom of expression]. Among the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) voters, the rate of approval of the attack was 26.4%; and only 6.2% viewed it as an attack on free speech. Only 17.8% of AKP voters thought the attack was the work of radical Islamists. Three-quarters of AKP voters thought Muslims were aggrieved by the attack; while as few as 15.4% thought the victims were the cartoonists who were murdered. Two-thirds of AKP voters thought attacks on Islam by Christian Crusaders were continuing.
The fact that key IS suspects are now free because the government may fear looking mean to its Islamist supporters only partly explains the appalling judicial rulings on jihadists and academics. «The suspects may be holding the Turkish government hostage … What if they threatened the authorities that they would reveal the government support for their organization in the past? You normally don’t walk free over such serious legal allegations,» observes one western diplomat in Ankara.
Russia has been claiming that Turkey keeps supporting the Islamic State through trading the jihadists’ oil, their main source of income. A new report claims that total supplies to terrorists in Syria last year was 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate; 456 tons of potassium nitrate; 75 tons of aluminum powder; sodium nitrate; glycerine; and nitric acid. The report stated:
«In order to pass through the border controls unimpeded, effectively with the complicity of the Turkish authorities, products are processed for companies that are purportedly registered in Jordan and Iraq … Registration and processing of the cargo are organized at customs posts in the [Turkish] cities of Antalya, Gaziantep and Mersin. Once the necessary procedures have been carried out, the goods pass unhindered through the border crossings at Cilvegozu and Oncupinar.»
Turkey keeps playing a fake war on jihadist terrorists. At a March meeting with top U.S. officials, King Abdullah of Jordan accused Turkey of exporting terrorists to Europe. He said: «The fact that terrorists are going to Europe is part of Turkish policy and Turkey keeps on getting a slap on the hand, but they are let off the hook.»
In fact, the Turkish government’s secret love affair with various Islamist groups is not always so secret. In March, thousands of supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global Islamist group, gathered at a public sports hall in Ankara — courtesy of the Turkish government — to discuss the re-establishment of the Islamic caliphate. In his speech, Mahmut Kar, the media bureau chief of Hizb-ut Tahrir Turkey said:
«Infidels who were enemies of Islam thought they buried Islam in the depths of history when they abolished the caliphate on March 3, 1924 … We are hopeful, enthusiastic and happy. Some 92 years after … we are shouting out that we will re-establish the caliphate, here, right next to the parliament.»
(Hizb ut-Tahrir, viewed by Russia and Kazakhstan as a terrorist group, defines itself as a political organization aiming to «lead the ummah» to the re-establishment of the caliphate and rule with sharia law.)
Guess what else Turkey is doing while pretending to be fighting jihadists? Apparently, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s declared political ambition to «raise devout generations» seems to have geared up. Turkey’s Religious Affairs General Directorate (Diyanet), the ultimate official religious authority in the country, recently issued comic books to the nation’s children telling them how marvelous it is to become an Islamic martyr.
Turkey’s Religious Affairs General Directorate (Diyanet), the ultimate official religious authority in the country, recently issued comic books to the nation’s children telling them how marvelous it is to become an Islamic martyr.
One comic strip is a dialogue between a father and his son. «How marvelous it is to become a martyr,» the father says. Unconvinced, the son asks: «Would anyone want to become a martyr?» And the father replies: «Yes, one would. Who doesn’t want to win heaven?»
And this is the country its Western allies believe will help them fight jihadists? Lots of luck!
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.