The supreme religious leader of Turkey's Iran-backed Hizbullah, Edip Gümüş, an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist government, has recently made a public call for a global jihad against Israel, leading to concerns about the safety of Jewish communities both within and without Turkey.
In a statement published on October 13 by the İlke Haber Ajansı (Ilke News Agency, ILKHA), a media outlet affiliated with Hizbullah, Gümüş urged, "Hurry up for jihad. Come to jihad and come to salvation. Especially those of you who are neighbors and close to the lands of Palestine, do not leave our Gazan brothers alone. Render the borders meaningless, pour in and join your Palestinian jihadist brothers."
He also emphasized that all Muslims worldwide must find a means to contribute to the jihadist cause.
Gümüş, a 65-year-old Turkish national of Kurdish origin, received training from Iranian intelligence and has forged an alliance with President Erdogan. He has not only met with Iran's supreme religious leader, Ali Khamenei, but has also worked closely with Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei's senior advisor.
In 2010 Gümüş fled Turkey after his release from prison pending trial and has been a fugitive ever since. Despite being on the run, his organization has experienced significant growth, largely due to the protection afforded him by the Erdogan government, which has allowed him to continue running Hizbullah from his undisclosed location. The organization was involved dozens of murders and assassinations in the past.
"Fight shoulder to shoulder with the mujahideen against the Zionist enemy, and those who have no opportunity to fight, those with unfavorable conditions, should strive to create opportunities and conditions [for combat]," he added. "Be like the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and strike fear into their [Jews] hearts," Gümüş urged.
The Hizbullah leader also called for the arming of jihadists in Palestine and emphasized the importance of taking care of the families they may leave behind.
Gümüş criticized those who claim that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are overpowered by the might of the US and Israel, asserting that such thinking is a sin because it fails to acknowledge the power and divine assistance of Allah.
"With His will, His decree and His command 'Be,' everything can change in an instant, turn upside down. Many times, a small and weak group has prevailed over a large and powerful one. Prepare yourselves, join the jihad, seek ways to participate and then put your trust in your Allah," he declared.
"As the Hizbullah organization, we declare to the entire world that with our wealth, our lives and our blood, we stand with our Palestinian mujahid brothers, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. We declare that we will provide all kinds of material and spiritual support within our means," the statement said.
Addressing Muslim women, Gümüş encouraged them to raise their children as jihadists and urged them to have more children, saying, "Your sisters in Palestine are giving birth to many children so that they may become martyrs in the path of Allah, two or three at a time."
The call from Hizbullah's supreme religious leader carries significant weight due to the vast network and resources at the organization's disposal, and it poses a serious threat not only to Jews but also to Muslims who oppose Hamas's terrorist attacks. Given the organization's history of violence and involvement in multiple murders, the religious leader's call, which is considered a religious edict demanding unquestioning obedience, should indeed raise alarm bells for law enforcement agencies.
Despite Hizbullah being designated as a terrorist group in Turkey, it enjoys political protection from the Erdogan government. Some of its members, even those serving life sentences for murder, have managed to secure their release from prison with government support.
Furthermore, there hasn't been any significant law enforcement action taken against the Hizbullah network in Turkey in the last decade, allowing the organization to operate freely in various segments of Turkish society. This situation raises concerns about the enforcement of counterterrorism measures and the organization's influence within the country.
HÜDA-PAR, the political arm of Hizbullah, officially formed an alliance with President Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the May 14 elections. In a significant development, three Hizbullah members for the first time became MPs in the Turkish Parliament, running on the AKP ticket. During the election campaign, Erdogan actively campaigned in various cities and towns alongside HÜDA-PAR leader Zekeriya Yapıcıoğlu, indicating a close political association between the two groups.
Turkish Hizbullah is primarily composed of Kurds and has a significant presence within certain parts of Turkey's Kurdish population, particularly in the religious and conservative segments. The alliance between President Erdogan and Hizbullah began with a secret deal in 2014, where electoral support was promised for the release of Hizbullah terrorists, including notorious murderers serving life sentences for killing 91 people during the 1990s and early 2000s in Turkey. This alliance became officially recognized this year, highlighting the political collaboration between the two entities.
Hizbullah is known for its highly organized and hierarchical structure, with the Consultative Body (İstişare Heyeti) under the leadership of Gümüş, making decisions on all matters. The organization has the ability to appeal to larger segments of the population by utilizing religious themes, such as incidents like Quran burnings in Europe and the Palestine issue. Hizbullah has a significant influence in organizing rallies and demonstrations across Turkey, often exceeding its political weight in these events.
In recent times many anti-Israel and pro-Hamas rallies across Turkey, especially following the Hamas terrorist attacks and the Israeli response, have been associated with the Hizbullah organization, indicating their prominent role in mobilizing public sentiment on these issues.
It's also concerning to note that Hamas leaders, who have found shelter in Turkey, were facilitated by Hizbullah to appear in the Turkish Parliament, allowing them to propagate their message and share their propaganda with the Turkish public. Hizbullah lawmakers even took the floor in the General Assembly, advocating for the severing of ties with Israel, a ban on the entry of Jews to Turkey and the deprivation of Turkish citizenship for Jews who enlist in the Israeli defense forces.
Hizbullah's connections to Iran have been exposed in previous criminal investigations, revealing that the Iranian regime provided arms, funding and training to many Hizbullah militants. These ties underscore the international dimensions of Hizbullah's operations and its links to state actors, adding to concerns about its activities and influence beyond Turkey's borders.
Confidential documents obtained by Nordic Monitor show that Turkish police and military intelligence units had in the past mapped out the money trail leading to Mustazaf-Der and other Hizbullah-linked entities and individuals from Iran. The documents, incorporated into a terrorism investigation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, identified the transfer of half a million dollars from Iran to Hizbullah in February 2012 alone.
A report filed by the counterterrorism bureau of the Diyarbakır police department on May 9, 2012 stated that Hizbullah received $100,000 every month from Iran in addition to lump-sum payments for special operations. It noted that Mehmet Hüseyin Yılmaz, the head of Mustazaf-Der; Mehmet Göktaşa, the owner of Hizbullah publication Doğru Haber; and Sait Gabari and Fikret Gültekin, Hizbullah propagandists, received half a million dollars from Iran in February 2012. It also added that Iran sent $10,000 to the family of Ubeydullah Durna, a Mustazaf member who was killed by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the town of Yuksekova near Turkey's border with Iran on May 5, 2011.
The report further revealed that Iran set up a special unit in Hizbullah for espionage and surveillance in Turkey to monitor military activities, especially around NATO installations. Members of this group were selected from people who work in government jobs and the media for easy access to sensitive sites and installations. It underlined that the unit ran surveillance on a NATO radar base in Malatya province, photographed and videotaped the base and its surroundings and passed the results to its Iranian handlers.
The Quds Force probe, which also investigated Hizbullah and its Iran links, was hushed up by the Erdogan government in 2014, and the investigating prosecutor was sacked before he had a chance to secure detention warrants for the suspects or file an indictment. The report on Hizbullah and other evidence in the case file were all buried by Erdogan's people, who were in bed with Hizbullah.
Hizbullah is a deadly group backed by Iran that seeks to establish an Iranian-style mullah regime in Turkey. It was set up in the '80s but made a name for itself in the '90s, when it recruited mostly Kurds in southeastern Turkey and was supported by some elements of the Turkish intelligence, military and police establishments against the outlawed PKK.
They were brutal in their murders, kidnapping moderate Muslims and executing them after torturing them in rooms built under safe houses. The highly secretive military wing was structured as independent cells, capable of executing assassinations and terrorist attacks. It had three-men groups that were trained in target identification, survival techniques, bomb making and intelligence gathering.
The group, however, faced a huge crackdown in early 2001 after the death of its leader, Hüseyin Velioğlu, in a clash with police during a raid on a safe house in Istanbul on January 17, 2000. Velioğlu was trained in Iran and Gümüş was his right hand man, responsible for operations in the predominantly Kurdish provinces of Batman, Diyarbakır and Mardin. In total 2,813 Hizbullah members were detained in police operations, and many, including Gümüş, were tried and convicted of terrorism offenses and sent to prison.
The evidence presented in the court case file indicated that Hizbullah's senior leaders in the 1980s operated under the influence of Iranian intelligence officer Esmail Gharajehdaghi, who was working for Iran's Ministry of Intelligence, known as Savama at the time. Gümüş was tried and convicted, receiving a life sentence. However, he was released in 2010 and has remained a fugitive since then, with suspicions that he took up residence in Iran.
Hizbullah, in response to the crackdown, adopted a low profile and changed its tactics to survive. It discreetly reorganized itself under a variety of foundations, associations and other entities during the first two terms of the Erdogan government. In December 2012 the group established the HÜDA-PAR political party with the support of the Erdogan government, which permitted the party's entry into politics. The secret alliance, formed in March 2014, emboldened Hizbullah to be more aggressive in rebuilding its network.
Currently Hizbullah, with its political party, associations, foundations, media outlets, charity groups and other networks, has been rapidly expanding in Turkey, particularly among the Kurdish population. Additionally, the group has extended its reach into a number of European countries, signifying its growing influence and presence beyond Turkey's borders.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Ginsburg/Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, is a Sweden-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.