A Turkish charity outfit, flagged by the UN Security Council for links to al-Qaeda, received millions of dollars from a Qatari charity, also accused of sponsoring terrorism, according to leaked data obtained by Nordic Monitor.
The Istanbul-based Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), a charity that works with Turkish intelligence agency MIT, received 85.2 million Qatari riyals ($23.4 million at today's exchange rate) between 2012 and 2018.
The funding, provided in 81 tranches over four years by the Sheikh Eid Bin Mohammad Al Thani Charitable Association, also known as Eid Charity, started a year after a civil conflict broke out in Syria, where the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has funded and armed rebels including violent jihadist groups to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime. The funding, the bulk of which was aimed at financing the IHH's operations in Turkey and Syria, helped bankroll the organization's global operations in Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa as well as in Latin America.
The leaked data was obtained by the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank, and shared with Nordic Monitor. Eid Charity funded not only the IHH but also many other Islamist organizations around the world, some with links to terrorist groups.
In the Turkish case, with the help of Qatari cash, the IHH focused on countries like Myanmar, Philippines, Cameroon, Bangladesh and Nepal in Southeast Asia, while Muslim groups in Colombia, Haiti, Ecuador and Peru were also wooed by the IHH and listed as recipients of funding in Latin America. At one point, the IHH also sent funds to Europe, ostensibly to help displaced Syrian refugees there. In Africa, IHH operations in Egypt and the Central African Republic (CAR) were funded by Qatar as well.
Both the IHH and Eid Charity were accused of financing terrorism, especially al-Qaeda operations in various parts of the world.
Over the years evidence has emerged to indicate that the IHH provided logistical support to various Islamist jihadist groups including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The first serious charges against the network of this highly controversial charity were filed by a Turkish prosecutor in January 2014 after a police investigation uncovered that the IHH had smuggled arms to al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria.
The criminal investigation, conducted by a prosecutor in Turkey's eastern province of Van, led to the IHH when wiretaps and surveillance revealed that the Kayseri and Kilis branches of the organization were sending funds and medical and household supplies to jihadists in Syria with the help of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT), which is run by President Erdoğan's close confidant Hakan Fidan, an Islamist figure.
The prosecutor's conclusion was that the NGO took part in the scheme knowing full well what it was involved in. It was not random or individual participation but rather a deliberate scheme with the knowledge of the IHH's top management.
Fearing that the expansion of the probe could lead to senior figures in the IHH and expose the links to his government, then-prime minister Erdoğan quickly moved to quash it. The government dismissed and later arrested all the police chiefs and prosecutors who uncovered the IHH's clandestine dealings with jihadist groups.
The best depiction of the IHH's clandestine work was provided by a top counterterrorism expert who had worked on terrorism for decades and investigated and monitored radical Islamist groups. At a hearing on August 16, 2016 Ali Fuat Yılmazer, former head of the police intelligence section that specialized in radical religious groups, testified that "the IHH campaigns are designed to provide aid for jihadists engaged in terrorism around the world and supply medical aid, funding, logistics and human resources for jihadists."
Yılmazer added that he personally submitted detailed reports about the IHH's terrorist links to Erdoğan when he was prime minister. "I also provided very comprehensive reports to the prime minister on this issue at the time. These reports are also filed in the archives of the [Turkish] state. It [the IHH] is one of the leading organizations when it comes to al-Qaeda activities around the world," he said in court.
The IHH's links to ISIS were also proven in a court case in Turkey. According to the testimony of a Turkish woman named Merve Dündar, the wife of ISIS militant Mahmut Gazi Dündar, both of whom were listed as suspected ISIS suicide bombers and placed on a watchlist, the IHH channelled logistical supplies to people who live in ISIS-controlled cities and towns. "We were living in ISIS territory, and my husband wasn't working in Syria. We were distributing [IHH-provided] supplies to the needy," she told the court in a hearing on June 10, 2021.
Nordic Monitor previously reported that the IHH also sent arms to Islamist groups in Libya, using a ship to deliver humanitarian supplies. The problems encountered by the ship while delivering arms were sorted out by Turkish diplomats posted to Libya.
A damning revelation of the IHH's terrorist activities was made by Russia in 2016. According to intelligence documents submitted to the UN Security Council on February 10, 2016, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the then-permanent representative to the UN, revealed Russian intelligence documents that even furnished the license plate numbers of trucks dispatched to Syria by the IHH loaded with arms and supplies bound for jihadist groups including the Nusra Front.
It is no surprise that the IHH's Qatari paymaster, Eid Charity, is also a subject of controversy over its links to terrorist groups. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, it is "probably the biggest and most influential activist Salafi-controlled relief organization in the world." Its founder Abdulrahman al-Nuaimi was labelled as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the US Department of the Treasury on December 18, 2013. The Treasury stated that al-Nuaimi facilitated significant financial support for al-Qaeda in Iraq, Somalia and Yemen and served as an interlocutor between al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq and Qatar-based donors.
On September 23, 2014 the UN Security Council's Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee also added his name to its list of individuals and entities subject to targeted financial sanctions, a travel ban and an arms embargo. Several other Eid Charity officials were also accused of sponsoring terrorism.
Al-Nuami worked closely with Ali bin Abdallah al-Suwaidi, another Qatari national and the general manager of Eid Charity. In June 2017 al-Suwaidi was designated as terrorist financier in a joint list drawn up by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Eid Charity is not the only Qatari organization that sent funding to the IHH. Qatar Charity, the Foundation Sheikh Thani Ibn Abdullah for Humanitarian Services (RAF), the Qatar Red Crescent and several others also financed the IHH's global operations.
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.