In Turkey, convicted ISIS members roam free and their weapons easily cross borders. Even Turkish intelligence admits Turkey has become the nerve center of ISIS activity.
Two reports have recently created an awkward situation for Turkey. The first one, an official report by Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), revealed that the ISIS weapons supply chain is based in Mersin, a port city in southern Turkey on the eastern Mediterranean coast.
Three companies were allegedly involved, and a China-born Uyghur man provided materials for the operation of armed drone equipment sales and the production of chemical weapons. All three companies had operated on behalf of ISIS as procurement liaison for drone and IED equipment from 2015 to 2017.
Second, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced in a TV interview that Turkish intelligence (MİT) had captured Nuri Gökhan Bozkır in Ukraine. Bozkır is a suspect in the assassination of Necip Hablemitoğlu, a popular academic among Kemalist circles before he was killed on 18 December 2002, right after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) had assumed power.
Erdoğan also claims that Bozkır has links with the banned Gülen movement, commonly referred to by Turkish authorities as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) named after its exiled leader, Muhammed Fethullah Gülen. Additionally, he is said to have supplied weapons and ammunition to ISIS.
Following the capture of Bozkır, further information has surfaced regarding his involvement in the arms trade. As a former Turkish army special forces member, he claimed that he had bought arms from Eastern Europe and Central Asia and transferred them to Syria from 2012 to 2015 on behalf of Turkey.
According to Bozkır himself, he had dispatched arms weapons to Syrian Turkmen, a total of 49 times, concealing them as boxes of food and vegetables.
Bozkır may be further implicated with the Turkish establishment than originally thought. In 2017, Turkey was looking for an engine for its domestic battle tank, ALTAY. Both the government and contractor company, TÜMOSAN had entered an agreement with Ukraine’s state-owned arms manufacturer, UkrOboronProm.
As it turned out, Bozkır was a partner in the Turkish representative for the company, Delta Defence Savunma LTD.
Court cases and ‘fugitive’ ISIS operators
Although his affiliations with Daesh are less documented, Bozkır was a suspect in a case regarding the discovery of improvised explosive device (IED) equipment in Akçakale, Şanlıurfa in 2015, and was wanted for supplying arms to ISIS and for being a member of the extremist group.
However, Bozkir wasn’t the only fugitive associated with ISIS in the country. The suspect in the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Turkey – the Ankara Train Station Massacre on 10 October 2015 was Mustafa Dokumacı, who nevertheless managed to flee the country.
His Azerbaijani wife, Ulkar Mammadova, told the police that when she and Dokumacı were trying to cross the border in 2014, they were assisted by Turkish soldiers. She claimed that her husband was later killed in a drone attack in 2020.
Following her confession, a court ruling released six women, including Mammadova and a few other wives of senior ISIS leaders. Mammadova was on the Turkish police ‘suicide bomber’ list.
Yet, according to one of the lawyers of the victims of the Ankara massacre, Senem Doganoglu, the acquittal of those women remains suspicious.
Doganoglu told The Cradle there were gaps in the women’s testimonies. “They simply informed on deceased ISIS militants or gave very general information about ISIS,” she explained. “I think they were acquitted in return for their silence.”
Right at the very top
It was also revealed last year that ISIS leader Jamal Abdel Rahman Alwi, accused of issuing the fatwa to burn alive two Turkish soldiers, was free and operating a bird shop in Gaziantep, Turkey. He was arrested only after the ensuing public uproar.
Last year, a senior figure, thought to be Turkey’s ISIS leader Abu Osama Al-Turki, was arrested in Syria and brought to Turkey by MİT, who had become aware of a plot to carry out a large-scale operation by illegally entering Turkey armed with explosives.
Another suspected ISIS member, Muhammed Cengiz Dayan, stood accused of being the leader of the Azeri-Turk division of the terror group. Despite denying accusations of his involvement in the Ankara massacre, he received a jail sentence of 10 years, 10 months and 37 days, but lawyer Eylem Sarıoğlu told the court that, despite all the evidence gathered, Dayan had been arrested and released twice before 2017.
Lawyer Senem Doganoglu said that one of the key witnesses in the case, Kuteybe Hammet, was acquitted for being a member of ISIS, after the court rejected the lawyer’s appeal for Hammet.
Furthermore, according to Doganoglu, it is questionable if this person even exists. “There are records [of Hammet] which go back to 1994, but whether he has left or entered Turkey is not clear,” Doganoglu said.
With several instances of ISIS members evading capture, is there collusion between ISIS and Turkey? Doganoglu seems to believe some courts have been trying to turn a blind eye.
“We can analyze active ISIS militants, who are put on trial or have been put on trial, from court cases,” she explained, adding that fugitive ISIS operators have not been seriously pursued by officials.
Keep the money flowing
In February 2021, the Turkish Gendarmerie announced that the head of the financial affairs of ISIS had been arrested.
An interesting coincidence occurred, however; this ISIS operator was caught in Mersin, which the MASAK report says is the center of the ISIS arms trade.
Mersin, according to the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, is the main station for ISIS militants going to Europe disguised as refugees.
Another ISIS operator, the former ‘finance minister’ of the organization, Sami Jasim [al-Juburi], was captured by the Iraqi government, with the help of Turkish intelligence, MİT, according to Reuters. It was claimed Jubiri had been residing in northwestern Syria but was arrested in Turkey.
There have been other interesting accounts of ISIS trade activities in Turkey. Turkish citizen Ömer Yetek was released from prison in 2020. Yetek is the so-called ‘media minister’ of ISIS who recorded and later released gruesome footage of Turkish soldiers as they were burning.
Yetek then became an informant, but it has been revealed that one of his three companies, used while he was with ISIS, is still operating in Turkey.
In June 2021, a Turkish Presidential decree declared that Turkey had frozen the assets of a company under the name of Alfay. The company was founded in 2018 in Sakarya by two Iraqis and a Syrian. The three were blacklisted by the US Treasury as ‘ISIS financial facilitators’ in May 2021.
Although the US announced that the founder of the company, Idris al-Fay, was in Iraqi custody, it was unclear whether Turkish authorities acted against the other two, or how this company could operate from 2018 to 2021.
Doganoglu recalled that four companies – Saksouk, Al Haram, Al Rawi, and ACL – had been sanctioned and named by the MASAK report.
The Turkish intelligence had uncovered their transactions in 2019, according to the MASAK report. “They were used for FX [foreign exchange] transactions,” she said. “Moreover, the report documents that those front companies collected charity for families in Al Hol detention camp. Then we got an odd decree that froze ISIS-related companies that do not exist anymore.”
In 2019, the US Treasury designated two Turkish citizens and four companies as part of the ‘ISIS Financial, Procurement, and Recruitment Networks in the Middle East and South Asia.’
A Turkish presidential decree was issued two years later, in 2021, to freeze the company assets of those two Turkish citizens. However, one of their companies, the Tawasul company, had commenced dissolution in February 2020 and had ended the process by September 2020.
By the time Turkish authorities acted, the Tawasul company no longer existed.
Finally, last January, a Turkish court repealed an asset freeze verdict against a Turkish company, Al Alamia, due to “lack of reasonable cause.” Al Alamia was accused of financing ISIS operations from Reyhanli, Hatay.
According to Doganoglu, the MASAK report confirms that Turkey has become a hub for ISIS transactions.
“Now, the MASAK proves that the fugitive ISIS suspects in the Ankara massacre case used their real identities for financial operations,” she said. “So, how do they [the officials] not monitor them?”
Questions that refuse to be answered
In a parliamentary question, Mersin MP Alpay Antmen, member of the main opposition party CHP, wanted answers from the Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu in relation to the arms trade of ISIS.
In particular, Antmen wanted to know about an ongoing investigation into ISIS suspects.
“It seems that security forces had monitored those suspects for years,” he says.
According to Antmen, a critical question remains unanswered – how Turkish authorities allowed these ISIS suspects to operate a company on Turkish soil and how citizenship was given to one of them: the Aleppo-born ISIS suspect Hag Geneid, in 2017 – the very same Geneid who, in 2019, was mysteriously granted a ‘no prosecution’ decision by a Turkish public prosecutor.
Turkey’s complex and contradictory relationship with ISIS has received further unwanted attention, with two successive ISIS leaders now having been killed in Syria’s north-western Idlib province, where Turkey has long supported armed opposition groups.
As such, the country has been accused by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the northern Kurdish-held areas of providing a safe haven for ISIS. This in turn may put a strain on an already uneasy NATO partnership.