By Abdullah Bozkurt
June 19, 2015
More troubling details have emerged about the extent of the damage done to Turkey's national security under the country's political Islamist rulers, who have become hostages to the entangling embrace of competing Iranian and Saudi interests in exchange for money and favors extended to the widely disliked group of goons clustered around embattled President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The hidden agenda behind the hastily arranged amendment last year to the intelligence law, which authorized the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) to hand over convicts and detainees to other countries and terrorist organizations without judicial review, has become clearer today. The government not only discreetly turned over a convicted Iranian spy who was serving jail time but also released captured militants who are affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other radical groups.
By doing so, the Islamists -- who have been managing the country's resources as if they are running an organized crime network -- have put Turkey's security in jeopardy. They have also run afoul of UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions as well as bilateral and regional commitments in the fight against terrorism. ISIL militants held in Turkish prisons were reportedly swapped in exchange for securing the release of Turkish hostages from the hands of ISIL or were simply let go to rejoin the cause against the Syrian regime. This clandestine policy has stirred a diplomatic backlash with several European countries. The publicized cases with the UK and Denmark that attracted some press coverage were only a few examples that are part of a wider problematic picture.
Erdoğan and his goons, who have allegedly taken sizable shares from Gulf funds that have been funneled to radical groups in Syria, did not have a problem with ISIL freely operating in the border provinces of Turkey and Syria. Wealthy Saudi businessman Yasin al-Qadi's close dealings with Erdoğan and his intelligence chief Hakan Fidan while Qadi was legally banned from entering Turkey by a Turkish Cabinet decision pursuant to a UNSC resolution were exposed in a corruption probe. Qadi, who was also on the US Treasury's list of terror financiers at the time, illegally passed through Turkish customs under the protection of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan and had meetings with Erdoğan's son, Bilal, on lucrative commercial deals.
The corruption investigation uncovered that Qadi had entered Turkey seven times before his name was taken off US and UN lists of those suspected of supporting terrorist activities. He entered Turkey without any paperwork at various airports, arriving on his private jet with the full knowledge and protection of the Prime Ministry. He was provided with a protective detail and a driver and met Erdoğan 12 times in Turkey. Fidan met with Qadi five times in İstanbul and Ankara during the period when he was not supposed to be allowed in Turkey. Many suspected that Qadi was involved in covert ops in Syria and other Arab countries in transition with the full cooperation of Erdoğan and other Islamists in the Turkish government. Only after the Turkish military exposed illegal arms shipments in January 2014 that prompted extensive media coverage and led to pressure from NATO allies did the Islamists in the Turkish government have to downsize their help to opposition groups in Syria. The amendment to the intelligence law provided sweeping powers to the spy agency to do as it pleases and bestowed full immunity that not even lawmakers enjoy in this country.
The Islamists were also able to stall comprehensive investigations into the Iranian-backed Tawhid-Salam (also known as the Jerusalem Army) terror network that is run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force commanders. Iranian operatives were let go when the probe was intentionally exposed by Islamists in the government and the probe was shelved. The investigators were arrested and the prosecutors were sacked to hush up the probe. The overwhelming hard evidence implicating Iranian intelligence operatives working undercover as diplomats such as Sayed Ali Akber Mir Vakili, Naser Ghafari and dozens of others were disregarded. These operatives were responsible for the bomb attack that targeted the Israeli Consulate General in İstanbul's Etiler neighborhood in 2011, directed reconnaissance on the US Consulate General in İstanbul in 2010 in preparation for a possible attack on the building and planned the foiled bomb attack in Tbilisi on Feb. 13, 2012 when a bomb was found under the car of a Georgian employee of the Israeli embassy in Tbilisi.
Even if these operatives had not been alerted into fleeing the country, the Islamists would have found a way to release them from jail. That is because Erdoğan and his henchmen are so indebted to Iran over money laundering schemes that circumvented the US and European financial sanctions in exchange for fat commissions. The corruption investigations of 2013 exposed how an Iranian contractor named Reza Zarrab bribed four ministers who were later forced to resign but was saved from standing trial by Erdoğan. Without the full knowledge and approval of Erdoğan, it would have been impossible for Zarrab to run his scheme that employed state-owned banks, customs and government agencies in aiding and abetting Iran to evade crippling sanctions.
Law No. 6532 that amended the intelligence law on April 17, 2014 in Parliament introduced a new authority to the spy agency that sparked questions from opposition parties during the debate in Parliament. Article 6 of the law stated that MİT can turn over or exchange any foreign national who has been convicted or is in pre-trial detention to another country if such an action serves the interests of the country and national security. The procedure requires a suggestion from the Foreign Ministry, a review by the Justice Ministry and the approval of the prime minister. There is no judicial review by an independent judge envisaged in this procedure, leaving the mandate fully to the executive branch, which is open to abuse and manipulation. The amendment was defended in Parliament by then¬-Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, the chief pro-Iran official in the government.
The worst fears regarding this amendment came to pass when the intelligence agency secretly released a convicted Iranian spy named Shahram Zargham Khoei from the high security H-type prison in Erzurum earlier this year. Khoei had been tried and sentenced to 15 years for espionage by the Erzurum 2nd High Criminal Court. He was arrested on Aug. 19, 2011 as part of the investigation into an Iranian spy ring that was found to be operating in the border province Iğdır. Police seized him, his colleague and several Turkish suspects, all of whom were found to be in possession of arms, secret correspondence between the suspects and Iranian intelligence officials and digital recorders containing information on state security. According to the evidence, the police believed that Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists used intelligence provided by these spies via GPS devices when they launched an attack on Iğdır police stations with rocket-propelled grenades in November 2011 and July 2012.
The unsavory and corrupt figures gathered around Erdoğan are now in panic mode after the June 7 elections, which signaled the end of the patronage system they have been benefiting from at the expense of the Turkish people. They will be held accountable for what they have done to the nation when the rule of law is eventually restored in this resilient, diverse and highly dynamic nation.