Israeli media report this morning that Bülent Yildirim, the head of the Turkish charity IHH is under investigation by Turkish authorities for transferring funds to Al-Qaida. But there are good reasons to be very skeptical about these reports.
IHH sponsored the ship Mavi Marmara as part of a flotilla to Gaza.
On 31 May 2010, Israeli forces carried out an unprovoked assault on the Mavi Marmara in international waters, killing 9 people on board and injuring dozens of others. Israel’s refusal to take responsibility for the attack led Turkey to impose military and diplomatic sanctions on Israel last September.
Allegations of Al-Qaida and “terrorist” ties
The Jerusalem Post reported:
Turkish legal authorities are investigating allegations that one of the key figures behind the May 2010 Gaza flotilla, Bülent Yildirim, was involved in transferring funds to al-Qaida, Turkish daily Habertürk reported on Friday.
After claiming ludicrously that “IHH is widely considered a terrorist organization by a number of bodies,” the Post continues:
According to the Habertürk report, special prosecutors in both Istanbul and Diyarbakir are conducting separate investigations into claims that Yildirim has been secretly “providing financial aid to al-Qaida via his foundation.”
What appears to give these Israeli reports credibility is that they cite the well-known Turkish news media outlet Habertürk. The reports also fit well with Israel’s narrative, bolstered by much subsequently debunked propaganda, that the flotilla was organized by “terrorists” and “extremists” and that therefore Israel was justified in attacking the ship.
The original Habertürk report on which the Israeli press relies appears here. But the report by Hilal Öztürk and Bülent Ceyhan does not provide a named source for the information about the alleged investigation:
It has been revealed that the special prosecutor in Istanbul who has also started the prosecution of the Israeli colonels following the military assault on the Mavi Marmara which was taking aid to Gaza, is also carrying a secret investigation about Bülent Yildirim. The investigation is focusing on the allegation that Yildirim is ‘providing financial support to Al-Qaeda’.
Two teams of investigators
According to information received by Habertürk, the investigation is carried out in great secrecy, and has not yet been given a reference number. It has been revealed that the investigation is being carried out by a special team of the Istanbul Security Directorate and the Istanbul Special Prosecutor’s office.
The Habertürk report did not even seek an official reaction to the claims, but simply published the anonymously sourced information as-is, and it was quickly laundered through the Israeli media.
Journalist says Turkish authorities deny report
On Twitter, however, Bülent Ceyhan, one of the journalists who wrote the report, subsequently stated that “the Attorney General and the Istanbul Police have denied such an investigation”:
IHH denies report
IHH also denied the report via its Twitter feed:
IHH expects pressure, smears and dirty tricks
In a 4 June interview in Star Gazete, IHH head Bülent Yildirim spoke about what he saw as the campaign to smear his organization:
Q: IHH is an international movement and NGO; it has gained attraction as an international actor. You have been actively engaged in conflicted areas where you obviously work against the interest of certain people who benefit from these conflicts. There should surely be some price to pay for that?**
Bülent Yildirim: Of course there is a price for what we do; we have been receiving numerous threats, slanders. We know that some even investigate our family trees to see if they can find anything there. Our relatives are being harassed. There are even workings on Al Qaida reports about us. Some say we’re supporting Iran, others claim we’re British agents. All to scare us and damage our reputation amongst people. I say this now very clearly, they can never force us to quit our rightful causes by threats and slander. We have nothing to hide. Everybody will see that justice will prevail. We are certainly aware of who are behind these threats and everything they do is well-documented in our files. In case of a single harm to any one of us or in any case of accusation, we will share these documents with the media and send them to the authorities.
Whatever is really going on, there are a couple of factors that raise additional suspicions about the report. It comes just days after Israel’s State Comptroller criticized (at least in Israeli terms) the Israeli government’s and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision-making leading up to the attack on the flotilla.
Turkish officials dismissed the State Comptroller report and insisted on a full apology.
Perhaps even more significant, the claim of IHH ties to Al-Qaida comes just weeks after Istanbul prosecutors filed criminal indictments against top Israeli officers including General Gabi Ashkenazi, who was Israel’s chief of staff at the time of the attack on the Mavi Marmara.
Unsourced allegations about secret probes into IHH for ties into Al-Qaeda could not have been better timed from the Israeli perspective. Stay tuned … .
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of several people with translation from Turkish.