Controversial jihadist-linked Turkish charity group the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) has been spotted operating on the ground in Athens, Nordic Monitor has learned.
The IHH has been identified as an arms smuggler to jihadist groups in Libya and Syria and was previously reported by Russia to the United Nation Security Council for links to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
In December 2018, IHH employees were photographed in Athens in what appeared to be a warehouse as they were distributing winter clothing to refugees. The IHH is known to conceal its activities under charity cover as was documented in a 2014 al-Qaeda investigation in Turkey, a probe that was later hushed up by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The IHH’s activities in Greece raise questions about what the Turkish government intends to do under the refugee aid scheme.
The IHH, backed by the Turkish government, works closely with the Turkish spy agency, the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), confidential documents obtained by journalist Abdullah Bozkurt and shared with Nordic Monitor showed.
He wrote previously that the documents clearly show that the head of the IHH, Bülent Yıldırım, has been in bed with the Turkish spy agency in running jihadist networks from Syria to Turkey. The following is from Bozkurt’s article published on Turkish Minute on Nov. 2, 2017:
The secret investigation included the transcripts of 142 phone wiretaps that were duly authorized by the courts between Jan. 6, 2013 and Dec. 17, 2013 as part of an investigation into radical Islamist groups. They identify a man named Veli Çayır, an intelligence officer who worked as the right-hand man of Hakan Fidan, the head of the Turkish spy agency.
It feels like the IHH head has a special hotline to Çayır and calls him whenever he feels he needs to share information on developments in Turkey and abroad where the IHH has operations under the cover of charitable work. In wiretapped evidence dated Feb. 25, 2013, Çayır makes clear to Yıldırım that he was assigned to work with him under specific orders from MIT Undersecretary Fidan and can call him day and night if needed.
The records show they try to avoid divulging secret information on the phone and prefer to use couriers to send sensitive messages or get together in person in secure locations. At times, Yıldırım appears to have visited the headquarters of MIT in Ankara’s Yenimahalle district. Nevertheless, they inadvertently release much information on the phone as they talk. The information gleaned from the wiretaps is enough to tie the IHH to Turkey’s notorious intelligence agency. Given the fact that the IHH has penetrated many countries abroad including ones in Europe under the guise of charitable and humanitarian work, there are enough reasons to be concerned about Erdoğan’s long arm reaching out to Turkish and Muslim diaspora communities.
On May 4, 2013 Yıldırım talks to Adem Özköse, a journalist who is known to be very close to jihadist groups, and says they should go and fight in Syria. When Özköse asked what exactly they should be doing in Syria, Yıldırım says arms should be sent to Syria or funds must be provided so that jihadists can purchase arms. He says he got fed up with protest meetings as they are futile for getting results. In a wiretap on Nov. 23, 2013, the IHH president brags about how he chided Muslim scholars who criticized the IHH for carrying arms under the guise of humanitarian aid. He says he told them the IHH can only send small arms in aid packages, while others are sending missiles.
In fact, the IHH sent weapons to Syria. The al-Qaeda investigation in January 2014 in Turkey’s eastern province of Van revealed how an IHH employee was working with a Turkish al-Qaeda cell and using the charity as a cover to move supplies to militants in Syria. The terrorists used the IHH’s logistics centers in two Turkish provinces, Kilis and Kayseri, to send funds and medical and household supplies to jihadists in Syria. Thanks to monitoring by police intelligence since 2012, a terrorist cell led by İbrahim Şen (37), a convicted al-Qaeda terrorist who was running a recruitment and trafficking drive between Turkey and Syria and using the IHH, among others, was uncovered.
The confidential documents expose how IHH President Yıldırım is intimately involved with rebels in Syria. For example, on May 28, 2013 Yıldırım called his contact at MIT, informing him that the IHH was hosting Zahran Alloush, the head of Liwa al-Islam (later changed its name to Jaysh al-Islam), a Salafist jihadist group active around Damascus, in Turkey and wanted to arrange a meeting between him, his deputy Abu Nour and MIT officials. Alloush was later killed by a Syrian Air Force airstrike on Dec. 25, 2015.
In another call on June 12, 2013, Fidan’s aide Çayır called the IHH chairman, asking him to provide support for the Al-Rahman Legion (Faylaq Al-Rahman), an armed opposition group that has a base near the Turkish-Syrian border crossing at Cilvegözü (Bab al-Hawa). He says the group is running low on supplies and asks the IHH to replenish his stocks. On Aug. 16, 2013 Yıldırım let his handler at MIT know that a man was caught in Syria and confessed to important information. His man recorded everything in the video and wanted to send the footage to the intelligence service in Ankara. In a phone conversation that took place on May 13, 2013, Yıldırım tells Çayır about a militant who would come to Turkey to stage an attack on members of the Turkey-backed Syrian National Council (al-Majlis al-Watani), which is based in Istanbul. He says he picked up the intel from a reliable source.
In a phone call on July 11, 2013, Yıldırım talks about an operation that involves a border crossing by a group in Syria and tells Çayır that he has misgivings about the people selected for the operation and underlines that they may fail in their task. He says he would coordinate the action with the intelligence officers on the ground. He also shares that IHH teams identified villagers who possess a highly dangerous chemical substance that is used in refining oil.
In a wiretap dated March 23, 2013 IHH head Yıldırım and MIT official Çayır talk about how to finalize a prisoner swap in Syria where a female officer from the Syrian army was caught by rebels and handed over to the IHH in exchange for the release by the Bashar al-Assad government of a captive opposition fighter. According to the plan, the woman was supposed to be picked up in Aleppo by the IHH and handed over to MIT for transfer to Iran.
The letter of the Russian ambassador to the UN that exposed Turkish NGOs including the IHH for transporting arms to ISIL in Syria.