Theme: If the trend towards the integration
of Turkish Jihadists into larger transnational networks continues,
the threat from Jihadist terrorism is likely to grow in Turkey and in
countries in which there are sizable Turkish diaspora communities.
Summary: In the 1980s and 1990s, Jihadist
terrorism in Turkey was an isolated phenomenon represented by two
organisations, the Turkish Hizbullah and the Great East Islamic
Raiders’ Front (IBDA-C). The former was a Kurdish group and the
latter predominantly Turkish. Both were nationalist in outlook and
strategy. From 2001, however, many Turkish Jihadists have integrated
into larger transnational networks, increasingly transcending
national affiliations. Instead of fighting Turkish secularists and
moderate Islamists, they attack Western targets. They have developed
a new interest in Jihadist causes world-wide and have broadened their
cooperation with Uzbek, Afghan, Pakistani and Arab Jihadists. The
Turkish diaspora in Europe is an important element in this
development. If this trend continues, the terrorist threat in Turkey
and in countries with sizable Turkish diaspora communities is likely to grow.
Analysis: Turkey is probably the country with the most diverse terrorist scene
in Europe and the Middle East. The main threat remains the Kurdistan
Workers Party, or PKK. Since the early 1980s it has fought an
insurgency in south-eastern Turkey which subsequently escalated into
a civil war. Its aim was to gain independence for the Kurdish people.
Although it has never come close to achieving its goals, it has been
able to hinder the stabilisation of Turkish rule in the eastern
provinces and –mainly from its bases in Iraqi Kurdistan– remains a threat today.
Although dominant, the Kurdish insurgency is only one among several terrorist
problems. Turkey was and is home to several left-wing militant groups
such as the Revolutionary Left (Devrimci
Sol) and its successor organisation
the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (Devrimci
Halk Kurtulus Partisi/Cephesi,
DHKP-C), which have lost some of their former relevance, but have
remained active in Turkey and among the Turkish diaspora in Europe.
Islamist groups have also been active since the 1980s, with the Turkish
Hizbullah (which is not in any way affiliated to the Lebanese
Hizbullah) and the Great East Islamic Raiders’ Front (Islami
Büyükdogu Akincilar Cephesi,
IBDA-C) being the most important until today. Their aim remains to
establish an Islamic State in Turkey. Nevertheless, instead of
fighting in Turkey, some individuals took part in the wars in Bosnia
and Chechnya in the 1990s, while others chose to travel to Pakistan
and Afghanistan in the 1990s in order to receive terrorist trainings
in the camps of al-Qaeda. Ever since, a distinct Turkish Jihadist scene has developed in Turkey
and among Turks in the European diaspora which has adopted a more
internationalist ideology than their predecessors did. There are
indications that the number of Turks travelling to Pakistan to join
al-Qaeda and the Taliban and receive training there is growing.
Turkish Jihadists are beginning to pose a growing threat to Turkish and European security.
A History of Islamist Terrorism in Turkey
Islamist terrorism in Turkey emerged in the early 1980s, partly in response to
three developments in the Middle East: (1) the rise of Islamist
movements in the Arab (and Muslim) worlds from the 1960s; (2) the
Islamic Revolution in Iran; and (3) the beginning of the Kurdish
insurgency in Turkey in 1984. Although Islamist movements in Turkey
in the 1980s and 1990s remained focused on their home country,
developments abroad did have a lasting impact on the situation. While
the Turkish Hizbullah was a phenomenon connected to the Kurdish
struggle and (in its formative period) the impact of the Iranian revolution, the IBDA-C has been a Turkish (non-Kurdish) phenomenon.
The Turkish Hizbullah
The Turkish Hizbullah is a primarily Kurdish organisation which has its social
base in the predominantly Kurdish eastern part of the country and
among the Kurdish populations of the major cities in the West like
Istanbul and Izmir. It emerged in Diyarbakir, the largest city
in the Kurdish south-east in the early 1980s under the leadership of
Hüseyin Velioglu (1952-2000), but soon split into two
factions called Ilim (‘knowledge’ or ‘science’) and Menzil (‘way-station’). The Ilim branch was led by Velioglu and was responsible for most
of the organisation’s terrorist activity. The Ilim demanded immediate violent action while the Menzil argued for a step-by-step,
propaganda-based strategy of winning over supporters before embarking
on holy war. Differing strategic thoughts led to a bitter power struggle within the organisation. The groups finally split in 1987 and fought each
other in the early 1990s. From 1994, the Ilim faction gained ground and became the dominant branch.
From 1987, the Turkish Hizbullah posed as a competitor to the PKK among Turkish
Kurds in Eastern Anatolia and tried to win the loyalty of Kurds who
opposed the PKK’s Marxist ideology on religious grounds. A
violent struggle between the two groups developed which escalated in
the early 1990s. The clash between Hizbullah and the PKK prompted
many observers to suspect the involvement of the Turkish security
forces. They claimed that the Hizbullah was created in order to fight
the PKK on behalf of the Turkish government and armed forces. In
fact, on a local level, the security forces and Hizbullah cadres seem
to have cooperated closely in their fight against the PKK. It was a
common phenomenon in the Middle East of the 1970s and 1980s that
governments cooperated with Islamists in order to weaken their
secular adversaries. It is rather unlikely, however, that the Turkish
army actually founded the Hizbullah in order to use it as an instrument in the civil war.
The Hizbullah was also suspected of entertaining close links with Iran.
The founders of the movement in the early 1980s were clearly inspired
by the Islamic Revolution in neighbouring Iran. This was a common
phenomenon in the Middle East after 1979, as Sunni Islamists felt
encouraged by the success of their Iranian brethren in toppling a
pro-Western ruler. Members of Hizbullah frequently travelled to Iran
and received training and other kinds of support by the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards. However, the Ilim faction was reputed to be more distant from Iran than Menzil. Relations between the Hizbullah and Tehran seem to have
cooled down after the Islamic Republic gave up its revolutionary foreign policy in the 1990s.
Even if there had been some cooperation between the Turkish army and the
Hizbullah in the 1980s and 1990s, the Turkish state successfully
fought the organisation from 1999. In the meantime, Hizbullah had
expanded its activities to the big cities of Western Turkey where it
tried to attract Kurds who had migrated in large numbers from Eastern
Anatolia. In January 2000, the Turkish police raided a house in
Istanbul and killed Velioglu. It then came out that the group
had kidnapped and executed several dozen businessmen, Islamist and
secular intellectuals and journalists. As a result, it quickly lost
support among its Kurdish sympathisers. When it tried to retaliate by
assassinating the chief of police in Diyarbakir, the government
cracked down on the organisation. Many of the top leaders were
arrested while others fled the country to Europe.
In recent years, the Hizbullah has reorganised in Turkey and in the diaspora,
with its leader, Isa Altsoy, living in Germany. It spectacularly re-emerged as a non-violent group and has focused on legal public activity. It now follows the strategy originally
propagated by the Menzil group. For instance, in 2006 it organised
mass rallies of tens of thousands in Diyarbakir, protesting
against the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. After having
shunned any public activity until 2000, it has begun to publish books
and magazines and has increasingly relied on the Internet to spread
its message. However, the new Hizbullah has not explicitly broken with its violent past, and it seems that –just like the Menzil group in the late
1980s and early 1990s– it sees propaganda activity as merely a
phase in a struggle that will ultimately lead to a violent jihad.
The Great Eastern Islamic Raiders’ Front (IBDA-C)
The Great Eastern Islamic Raiders’ Front or IBDA-C was founded in 1984 by Salih Mirzabeyoglu (Salih Izzet
Erdis, born 1950). In contrast to the Hizbullah, IBDA-C members
are mostly (if not all) Turks rather than Kurds, although its leader
is alleged to come from a Kurdish family. Mirzabeyoglu had first
joined the Islamist National Salvation Party (Millî
Selamet Partisi, MSP) of former
Prime Minister Erbakan, but than left in order to build a more
radical, militant group. He was deeply influenced by the writings and
personality of the Islamo-nationalist poet Necip Fazil Kisakürek
(1904-1983), who –in a book titled The
Ideological Network of the Great East (Büyük Dogu Ideolocya
propounded the idea of a supranational Islamic state. This state, to
be named ‘Great East’, would comprise the territory of
several Middle Eastern states and be ruled by a caliph from Istanbul.
In fact, Kisakürek proposed a peculiar mix of Islamism,
Ottomanism and Turkish nationalism, which is typical for some Jihadist organisations in Turkey until today.
Mirzabeyoglu set out to fulfil Kisakürek’s vision by fighting the
Turkish state and Turkish secularism as the main obstacles in the way
to an Islamic state. The IBDA-C is strongly sectarian and therefore
does not share Hizbullah’s strong connections to Iran. It is
anti-Shiite, anti-Alevite, anti-Christian and anti-Jewish. During the
1990s, the group perpetrated numerous attacks not only on prominent
secularists, but also on Jews, Alevites and Christians. It frequently
attacked banks and government installations as well as churches, bars, brothels and nightclubs.
IBDA-C was and remains a relatively small organisation with no more than a few
hundred supporters. Its resources are limited so that its activities
have never been very effective. Furthermore, it is highly fragmented.
The group has, however, followed a strategy that was later termed
‘leaderless jihad’. The IBDA-C cells normally consist of
no more than three to five members and the organisation relies on
cells forming independently after having been convinced by the
IBDA-C’s propaganda activities. Therefore, arrests of individual members and cells do not damage the organisation as much as in cases of more centralised structures.
As a consequence, the IBDA-C relies heavily on the dissemination of its
ideas. Mirzabeyoglu himself wrote more than 50 books, in which
he expounded the group’s ideology. Even after he was arrested
in late 1998, Mirzabeyoglu continued his propaganda efforts in
Turkish jails and his followers have persisted in these activities.
Since 2001 they publish a journal called The
Awaited New Order (Beklenen Yeni Nizam). In 2005, the IBDA-C
started publishing a journal called Kaide (al-Qaeda) in which the authors openly support Osama Bin Laden’s
organisation. IBDA-C activists increasingly publish their materials on the Internet.
Al-Qaeda and the Istanbul Bombings
From its inception in the mid-1990s, al-Qaeda has been an Arab organisation,
dominated by Egyptians and Saudi-Arabians around its two leaders,
Aiman al-Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden. Until 2001, the organisation
had not been able to fully integrate the national or regional
groupings into its hierarchy. North Africans, Syrians and
Palestinians still tended to organise in nationally or regionally
homogenous groups. Some, like the Palestinians and Jordanians under
the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966-2006), refused to join
the organisation and preferred to build their own, which was first
called al-Tawhid (‘Monotheism’) and then al-Tawhid
wa-l-Jihad (‘Monotheism and
Although no reliable numbers are available, Turkish nationals seem to have been a
small minority among the volunteers trained in the Afghan camps. Only
after the attacks on Jewish and British targets in Istanbul in
November 2003 has more detailed information was made available to the
public. However, Afghanistan was only one among several destinations
for Turkish Jihadists in the 1990s. Turks first seem to have
developed a keener interest in the situation of Muslims in the
Balkans and the Caucasus. This is due to historical reasons: both
regions had at least partly been ruled by the Ottoman Empire and
there were strong relations between Islamists there and their Turkish
brethren. An unknown number of Turks took part in the wars in Bosnia
and Chechnya. Among the Turkish nationals who then went to Afghanistan, Kurds seem to have formed a majority. As Kurds mostly live in south-eastern
Anatolia bordering on Syria and Iraq and have contact with the
Kurdish minorities in the neighbouring countries, they have been more
open to influences from the Arab world than the Turks. Some Kurds
from Iraq also joined the Jihadists in Afghanistan. This might
explain the dominance of Kurds among ‘Turkish Afghans’ in the 1990s.
Turkey itself was an important logistics hub for al-Qaeda and a way-station
for Jihadists travelling to Pakistan and Afghanistan. One important
route led Europeans, North Africans and Middle Easterners to Turkey,
in most cases to Istanbul first, and thence overland to Iran and
Pakistan. In the 1990s, al-Qaeda personnel based in Turkey assisted
the volunteers. The most important operative seems to have been
Muhammad Bahaiah (Abu Khalid al-Suri), a Syrian. To what extent Turkish operatives have been implicated in these
activities has not yet been established. However, the Turkish
dimension appears to have been more important than hitherto suspected.
The US war against Iraq 2003 became an important turning point for the Turkish
Jihadists. The invasion and the subsequent emergence of an Iraqi
insurgency have in general fostered Turkish Anti-Americanism and have
prompted even formerly more nationalist-inclined Islamists to target
the US and their allies. A first consequence of this trend was the Istanbul bombings of November 2003.
The Istanbul Bombings of November 2003
Turkey was first hit by al-Qaeda on 15 November 2003 when car bombs exploded
outside the Neveh Shalom and Beit Yisrael synagogues in central
Istanbul. Suicide bombers in trucks then targeted the local branch of
the British HSBC bank and the British consulate, with the result of
62 dead and more than 650 injured. These were the most devastating
terrorist attacks in Turkish history and subsequently dubbed Turkey’s ‘September 11’.
At least some of the perpetrators had undertaken courses in al-Qaeda training
camps in Afghanistan. During the investigations, suspects stated that
they had discussed possible targets with the al-Qaeda military
commander, the Egyptian Abu Hafs al-Masri (died 2001). According to
these reports, the al-Qaeda leadership had ordered them to attack
Western and/or Israeli targets. Their discussion had centred on an
attack at Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey, the most important US
base in the country. Because of the tight security around the
airport, the group had decided to look for more vulnerable targets.
The final decision to attack Jewish and British targets seems to have
been taken by the attackers after the invasion of Iraq by US and
British forces in the spring of 2003. In October 2003, Osama Bin
Laden issued an audio tape in which he called upon his followers to
perpetrate attacks on countries which had provided troops to help the US stabilise Iraq, most prominently the UK, Spain and Italy.
Shortly after the attacks, the IBDA-C and the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, a
group of online activists not related to al-Qaeda, claimed
responsibility for the attacks. However, in the course of the
investigation it became clear that the plot was hatched by a local
group which had trained in Afghanistan and had links to al-Qaeda and
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad. Several perpetrators had
been members or close sympathisers of the Turkish Hizbullah and IBDA-C in the past, but the organisations as such do not seem to have
been involved. They rather defined the intellectual and political environment in which their radicalisation had taken place.
The group that perpetrated the attacks was mainly made up of Turkish citizens
from the south-eastern part of the country –Kurds from towns
where Hizbullah commanded a large following–. The largest
single group came from Bingöl, a remote predominantly Kurdish
town in eastern Anatolia, where unemployment rates are high and the
devastating repercussions of the civil war of the 1980s and 1990s are
all too visible. Others came from Malatya, Mardin, Batman and Van, all towns and cities in similarly miserable conditions to Bingöl and centres
of Kurdish opposition to the Turkish state for decades.
The Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese Connections
In the course of the investigation, it became clear that the plotters were
not only linked to al-Qaeda in Pakistan but also to terrorist
organisations in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, which belonged to the
larger network of Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi’s Jama‘at
al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad (which later pledged its loyalty to Osama Bin Laden and changed its name to
al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia). Directly before and after the attack, some
surviving members of the cell fled to Syria, among them Habib Aktas,
a leading personality. He and other members of the group later joined
Zarqawi in Iraq and some were killed there. Furthermore, in late 2003, Syria deported 22 Turkish suspects to their home country.
However, close links to Zarqawi’s organisation became obvious when it
was discovered that the perpetrators themselves claimed to be members
of a group called Beyyiat al-Imam or ‘Oath of allegiance to the Imam’. This was the Turkish version of the name of the Jordanian group Bay‘at al-Imam, which had been founded in the early 1990s by Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi,
Zarqawi’s spiritual mentor, and which was later taken over by
Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi. The choice of a name which was strange
even to the Jihadists’ ears was obviously aimed at emphasising
the link to Zarqawi and Maqdisi.
The link between Zarqawi and the Istanbul plotters became even clearer when
news about the financing of the plot was made public. The Syrian
al-Qaeda in Iraq operative Luayy Saqqa was named (and later
convicted) as the mastermind of the Istanbul bombings and was said to
have financed the attacks. Saqqa’s (born 1974) family –which
is most probably of Kurdish descent– had lived in eastern
Turkey until 1960, but then emigrated to Aleppo, the most important
Islamist stronghold in Syria. He had first joined al-Qaeda Central in
Afghanistan and built up a close relationship with Abu Zubaida, an
important logistics official based in Pakistan and a close associate
of Osama Bin Laden. In 1997, Abu Zubaida sent him to the Khalden
training camp in Afghanistan and later to Turkey in order to build
structures there. When he returned to Afghanistan in 1999, however,
he moved to Herat with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Zarqawi had just been released from jail in Jordan in early 1999 when he returned
to Afghanistan, where he had already been staying in the late 1980s.
He gained permission to establish his own training camp in Herat
close to the Iranian border and far from al-Qaeda’s
headquarters in Kandahar. It was a camp established exclusively for
Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese, who formed the core
of Zarqawi’s Tawhid organisation. Among the first group of activists, which consisted of
only five men, was Luayy Saqqa. Zarqawi refused to be incorporated
into Osama Bin Laden’s organisation. Rather, he asserted his
independence and stuck to his original goal, namely to fight against
the Jordanian regime and for the ‘liberation’ of
Palestine rather than join al-Qaeda’s global jihad. In late 2001, Zarqawi fled to northern Iraq via Iran. When it became
clear that the US would attack Iraq, Zarqawi took the chance to
reorganise his network and redirect it for the fight against the US
in Iraq and, increasingly, against the new Iraqi government. He
relied on a growing number of Iraqi personnel in his network and
co-operated with former regime loyalists. Most of the suicide bomb attacks in Iraq since the summer of 2003 have been perpetrated by Zarqawi’s group.
In order to rebuild his organisation and fight US forces in Iraq, Zarqawi had to
rely heavily on new Iraqi recruits, so he was unable to continue to
implement his former agenda, focusing exclusively on Jordanian and
Israeli targets. According to one of his followers, Zarqawi adjusted
his strategy to the new situation: first, the militants would have to
expel the Americans from Iraq, where they would install an Islamist
regime and then they would extend their Jihad to the neighbouring
countries, with the final aim of liberating Jerusalem. As it turned out in 2003 and later, Zarqawi targeted Turkey as well
as neighbouring Arab countries. Luayy Saqqa was to execute his strategy in Turkey.
In the late 1990s and until 2001, Saqqa seems to have become an important
personality in the network. He undertook several dozen journeys
between Syria, Turkey and Jordan, and spent time in Afghanistan and
Germany. He later joined Zarqawi in Iraq and seems to have been an important node in his network in Syria and especially Turkey. After his arrest
in 2005, he claimed to have fought for Zarqawi in Iraq and that he
had taken part in kidnappings and executions. Most importantly,
however, he seems to have provided the perpetrators of the Istanbul bombings with up to US$160.000.
Saqqa was arrested in August 2005, when he planned attacks on Israeli cruise
ships in the southern Turkish port city of Antalya. The plot failed
in its early stages, when some of the explosives caught fire in an
apartment in Antalya. Saqqa was subsequently caught in Diyarbakir,
carrying US$120.000 in cash.
Turkish Jihadists and the Turkish Diaspora
As there is a sizeable Turkish diaspora in Western Europe, and parts of this
diaspora have joined the Jihadist movement, the interplay between
Turkish Jihadists in Turkey and (especially) Germany –home to
around 2.5 million Turks and Germans of Turkish-origin– seems
to have intensified in recent years, possibly due to the use of new
media, especially the Internet. For many Turkish Islamists since the
1970s, Germany has been a favourite refuge, as their activities were
widely tolerated by the German authorities and they were able to act
freely among a strong Turkish minority. All Turkish terrorist groups
had (and still have) a strong base in Germany, among them the Kurdish
PKK. Only after 11 September 2001 have the German authorities cracked
down on some of these movements without, however, eliminating the
problem. In recent years, there seems to be a strong trend towards Jihadist radicalisation among young Turks in Germany.
The Kaplan Family and the ‘Caliph State Organisation’
Turkish Jihadists had an important precursor in Germany: the ‘Caliph
State Organisation’ of Cemalettin and Metin Kaplan. Cemalettin
Kaplan (died 1995) a theologian, had
been an employee of the Presidency of Religious Affairs in Turkey and
Mufti in Adana. After the military coup in 1980 and the ban on
Erbakan’s Party of National Salvation (Milli
Selamet Partisi), Kaplan fled to Germany and became active in an Islamist organisation close
to the Party, the Islamic Union Europe. He soon provoked heated
debates within the organisation, because –although a Sunni–
he was a staunch admirer of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In
November 1984, Kaplan founded his own organisation, the Federation of
Islamic Associations and Communities (Islam
Cemiyet ve Cemaatler Birligi, ICCB), with its headquarters in Cologne. In its heyday in the late
1980s, his organisation had around 7,000 members.
Kaplan, who was nicknamed the ‘Cologne Khomeini’ by the German press,
aimed at the revolutionary foundation of an Islamic state in Turkey
and the restoration of the caliphate. In 1994 he proclaimed himself
caliph and called his organisation the ‘Caliph State’ (Hilafet Devleti).
By the time of Cemalettin Kaplan’s death in 1995, the Caliph
State organisation was a highly centralised, authoritarian movement
which had lost its charismatic leader. Already by the end of the
1980s, Kaplan had reorganised the movement which had started to lose
support among the Turks in Germany. He and his remaining supporters
increasingly isolated themselves from their co-religionists, so that
the organisation adopted a sectarian, almost cult-like character.
This trend continued after Cemalettin’s death, when his son
Metin (born 1952) followed his father as head of the organisation.
Metin lacked his father’s charisma, intelligence and talent, so
that the organisation almost disintegrated. A rival caliph, Ibrahim
Sofu, emerged among the movement’s supporters in Berlin. After
Metin Kaplan demanded his death in the organisation’s
mouthpiece, Ümmet-i Muhammad, Sofu was assassinated in 1997. As a result, in the late 1990s the
numbers of the organisation’s members shrank to less than 1,000
from around 3,800 in 1995. In 2000, Kaplan was imprisoned for four
years because he had called for the murder of Sofu. In December 2001,
the Caliph State was banned and in 2004, after his release from
prison, Kaplan was extradited to Turkey. There he was convicted to
life imprisonment because he had allegedly ordered a terrorist attack
on the mausoleum of Kemal Atatürk in Ankara.
In 2001 and 2002, the Caliph State was considered to be a possible terrorist
threat in Germany. However, its members showed no inclination to
perpetrate terrorist attacks and focussed on what they considered an
exemplary Muslim personal life. Whether Kaplan’s supporters
really planned to destroy the Atatürk mausoleum is highly
doubtful. Be that as it may, the Kaplan movement was reduced to
insignificance after 2005, although it still has supporters and continues some clandestine activities.
The ‘Sauerland’ Plot and its Turkish Dimension
For years after the imprisonment of Metin Kaplan, the German authorities argued
that the threat of Jihadist terrorism was smaller in Germany than in
France, the UK or Spain because Germany’s Turkish migrant
community was less prone to Jihadist radicalisation than the Arabs.
This assessment proved wrong, however, in the course of 2007, when a
Turkish-Kurdish-Arab-German group of Jihadists planned to attack US
and possibly Uzbek targets in Germany. In September 2007, two German
converts and a Turk were arrested in a small town in the Sauerland region in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia.
The ‘Sauerland cell’ as they were subsequently called, was
part of a larger group of around 30 or more young Jihadists in
Germany, mostly ethnic Turks or Kurds living in Germany and some
Arabs and several converts, who had been part of a Jihadist network.
For the first time, German Turks in larger numbers were radicalised
and joined a Jihadist organisation. The nucleus of the group seems to
have been formed in the Salafist milieu of Ulm and Neu-Ulm in south-western Germany. From 2001, the
Multikulturhaus in Neu-Ulm had become a rallying point for young
Turks, Kurds, Arabs and German converts alike. As a result of their
radicalisation, at least 10 to 20 of them went to terrorist training
camps in Pakistan from 2006.
Training took place in northern Waziristan, in the camps of a small Uzbek
group called the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU). The IJU is a splinter group of the larger and older Islamic Movement
of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is also based in Waziristan. However, the
IJU split from the IMU because the latter refused to internationalise
its ideology and join the (Afghan) Taliban and al-Qaeda in their
fight against Western forces in Afghanistan. The IJU entered into a
close alliance with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Since 2006 it has
increasingly recruited ethnic Turks and seems to be aiming to
increase its attraction among Turks in Germany and in Turkey itself.
The reason for the IJU’s success is simple: Turks and Uzbeks
are related Turkic peoples and speak similar languages. An Uzbek
organisation that operates transnationally and takes an
internationalist line is therefore ideally suited for recruiting
Turks –either from Turkey itself or from the European
The planned attack in Germany was an attempt to support the struggle of the
Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The IJU leadership was mainly
concerned with influencing the German debate on extending both
Afghanistan mandates. They evidently calculated that attacks just
before the Bundestag votes in October and November 2007 could prevent
an extension and force the withdrawal of troops. The Taliban and al-Qaeda had long regarded Germany as the weakest
link in the chain of the major troop providers and wanted to exploit growing criticism of the campaign in Afghanistan among Germans.
Besides training future Jihadists, the IJU has aimed at increasing its
attraction among young Turks by using a Turkish language website,
which was hosted in Turkey in 2008. Obviously, parts of the group’s
infrastructure were based in Turkey itself. From September 2007, the
IJU started posting an increasing amount of propaganda messages and
videos on www.sehadetvakti.com (‘Time for Martyrdom’). Most spectacularly, in early March 2008 the IJU posted a video
showing Cüneyt Çiftçi, a Turk born and living in
Germany training for, preparing and perpetrating a suicide attack on
US and Afghan troops in the Afghan province of Paktika. Ever since, reports of young Germans and Turks joining the ranks of the IJU, Taliban and al-Qaeda have increased in number.
The ‘Sauerland plot’ itself did have another Turkish
dimension, showing the emergence of an Uzbek-Turkish-German network.
Members of the network in Turkey sent the detonators for the Sauerland cell to Germany.
Conclusion: Jihadist Terrorism in Turkey has developed from an isolated phenomenon mainly embodied by two obscure
groups, which were a minor threat compared to the PKK’s
insurgency, to a major terrorist threat to the country. From
nationalist groups, the Turkish Islamist terrorists have developed
into parts of larger transnational networks, increasingly
transcending national affiliations, without however giving them up.
Instead of targeting Turkish secularists and moderate Islamists, they
increasingly attack Western targets like the Israeli cruise ships in
August 2005 and the US consulate in Istanbul in July 2008. The
anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli dimension of their activities is partly due to their strong connections to Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
There are indications of an accelerating trend towards internationalisation.
This trend was foreshadowed on the Jihadist Internet, where Turks in
recent years have developed a profound interest in conflicts in Iraq,
Afghanistan and further afield. Subsequently, it has allowed for a
greater cooperation with Uzbek, Afghan, Pakistani and Arab Jihadists.
Should such a trend continue to unfold, the terrorist threat in
Turkey and in countries with sizable Turkish diaspora communities is likely to grow.
Researcher at the Middle East and Africa Division, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Berlin