Iranian intelligence brokered a meeting between a senior Taliban official and a member of Turkish al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic Great East Raiders Front (İslami Büyük Doğu Akıncıları Cephesi, IBDA-C) in Istanbul in November 2022, Nordic Monitor has learned.
The meeting was held in an office of Rehber TV, a Turkish-language religious network that is funded by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force operatives. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman and deputy minister of information and culture who had been in Turkey for several days on a visit that was coordinated by Iranian assets, met with Faruk Hanedar, a senior militant who works for IBDA-C.
IBDA-C even published an interview with Mujahid in its monthly magazine Baran, owned by Hanedar, and promoted the meeting on the cover of its November 2022 issue. The interview was titled with a remark by Mujahid: "What we really need is an Islamic state model."
Interview excerpts also reveal that the militant group discussed future plans with the Taliban and pitched IBDA-C's goal of destroying the secular and democratic governance in Turkey and establishing what it called the Great Eastern Islamic State. The new state's capital would be in Istanbul and include other so-called Islamic states as well.
IBDA-C is listed as terrorist entity by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Many members were arrested, indicted, tried and sentenced to prison, including Salih İzzet Erdiş (aka Salih Mirzabeyoğlu, or the Commandant), the late leader of IBDA/C who was convicted on terrorism charges.
Erdiş established the organization in 1985 and turned it into a deadly terrorist group, with dozens of attacks between 1990 and 1998, according to an indictment filed with the court on January 12, 1999. The group attacked Armenian, Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches as well as synagogues and American colleges in Turkey with bombs and Molotov cocktails. They specifically targeted banks, stores that sell alcoholic beverages, designer shops, political party buildings, newspapers and associations that were opposed to the IBDA/C ideology.
The IBDA-C also claimed responsibility for a range of terrorist acts in Turkey including what authorities said was a joint plot with al-Qaeda in carrying out the 2003 bombings in İstanbul of two synagogues, an HSBC bank branch and the British Consulate General, and a 2008 attack on the US Consulate General in İstanbul. The attacks killed dozens of people.
IBDA/C publications openly praise the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and promote him as a martyr who stood up against imperialists. IBDA/C leader Erdiş described him as "a man who struck the US in the heart."
On February 4, 2001 the Bakırköy 3rd High Criminal Court convicted Erdiş on multiple charges and sentenced him to death, but his sentence was converted to life imprisonment in 2004 after Turkey abolished the death penalty. However, on July 22, 2014 then-prime minister and now president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan secured the release of Erdiş from prison and later his acquittal of all charges after a hastily arranged retrial.
The establishment of ties between the Taliban and IBDA/C means Turkish jihadists have found a new sanctuary in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, as was the case in the past. Dozens of Turks traveled to Afghanistan in the late '90s and early 2000s to fight for al-Qaeda groups and were trained in arms and explosives there. Some of them were arrested in Turkey upon their return, but they were all released thanks to Erdoğan government interventions in the criminal justice system.
While he was in Turkey, Mujahid attended a conference organized by the Union of Islamic Scholars and Madrasahs (Alimler ve Medreseler Birliği, or İTTİHADUL ULEMA), an affiliate of Turkish Hizbullah, which is funded and supported by the IRGC. The group, predominantly catering to Kurds in Turkey, seeks to establish an Iranian-style mullah regime in the country.
The chairman of the Union of Islamic Scholars and Madrasahs is a man named Enver Kılıçarslan, who was convicted in February 2002 of membership in Hizbullah and sentenced to seven years, six months. He was trained in Iran in 1987 and assigned to serve under the late Turkish Hizbullah leader Hüseyin Velioğlu, who was killed in a gunfight with police during a raid on a safe house in Istanbul in January 2000.
At a conference organized in Turkey by the Iran-backed International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), Mujahid told the audience that Islamic scholars led the ranks of the jihad against the enemy in Afghanistan and that the victory in 2021 was made possible thanks to this.
Mujahid also met with Muslim Brotherhood figures in Turkey such as Ali Muhiuddin Qara Daghi, general secretary of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and his deputy Saleh al-Arouri.
Turkey's Islamist government, led by Erdoğan, hailed the Taliban's comeback. Speaking on July 20, 2021 Erdoğan said his government would negotiate with the Taliban, whom he said should feel comfortable talking with Turkey, as opposed to the Americans. He justified his reasoning by underlining that "Turkey has nothing against the Taliban's ideology, and since we aren't in conflict with the Taliban's beliefs, I believe we can better discuss and agree with them on issues."
The Taliban responded to Erdoğan's calls, with Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, telling The Independent Turkish service that they see Turkey as an ally and want to build close relations with it. The same talking points were repeated by Mujahid in the speeches he delivered in Turkey in November 2022.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Swedish-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.