Benjamin Baird, deputy director of Islamism in Politics (IIP), a project of Middle East Forum's Islamist Watch, spoke with Islamist Watch's director Sam Westrop in a September 24 Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about the malign influence network of Turkey's Islamist regime inside the United States.
According to Baird, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan controls a "highly sophisticated" network of media institutions, lobbyists, political action committees (PACs), and non-profits designed to "impact U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and globally," undermine Israel, and support American Islamists.
The Washington, DC-based Turkish Heritage Organization (THO), which ostensibly works to better U.S.-Turkey relations, is essentially an agent of the Erdoğan regime, as explicitly confirmed in 2016 by hacked emails between THO executive director Halil Ibrahim Danișmaz, and Erdoğan's son-in-law, Berat Albayrak. After coming under investigation by the FBI, Danișmaz relocated to Turkey and was replaced as head of the THO by "another Turkish-American proxy," Ali Cinar.
Other hacked Albayrak emails show Murat Guzel, a Turkish-American member of the Democratic National Committee and major political donor, pledging to "stand by Erdoğan." Guzel is a director of Musiad USA, a "religious-minded" Turkish-American Islamist business group.
One of the main Washington lobbyists on Ankara's behalf is Lydia Borland, owner of LB Solutions and a non-Turk. Borland established a series of Turkish-American political action committees (PACs) under the "Ten Thousand Turks Campaign" umbrella to fund U.S. congressional races. These PACs targeted many members of the congressional Turkey Caucus for cultivation by the Turkish regime.
Turkey has become the "biggest foreign backer" of American Islamist groups in their efforts to influence American politics. To wit, the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), the Muslim American Society (MAS), and the Islamic Council of North America (ICNA) have ties to pro-Erdoğan Turkish-American Islamist organizations such as Musiad USA. Increasingly, American Islamist organizations have been "carrying water" for the AKP.
Although Erdoğan's Turkish-American proxies are mostly focused on influence operations within the United States, at least one has ties to violent Islamism abroad. The Turkish-American charity Zakat Foundation is "a key fiscal sponsor" of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), an Istanbul-based NGO aligned with U.S.-designated terror organizations. The IHH, close to Hamas, al Qaeda, and ISIS, was involved in the 2010 Freedom Flotilla that attempted to break the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, resulted in 10 deaths.
Turkey's religious outreach in America is centered around the Diyanet Center of America (DCA), a massive mosque complex located outside of Washington, DC in Lanham, Maryland, and a network of affiliated mosques across the northeastern United States.
The DCA and its affiliates are funded and controlled by the Turkish government's Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), which "curate[s] and prepare[s]" their politicized weekly sermons. "Here you have the Turkish government basically controlling territory in the United States in many ways, using it to forward the ambitions of the Turkish government and [Erdoğan's] Justice and Development Party [AKP]."
In addition, Diyanet mosques in the United States likely conduct espionage. Imams and clerics connected to the Diyanet network in Europe, particularly in Germany and France, spy on Turks in those locales and funnel intelligence to the AKP. Turkish-Americans are fearful that the same is occurring in the U.S. Baird said that the DCA should be required to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), which to date has not occurred.
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.