The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated three Turkish entities and two Turkish citizens on Monday for “providing critical financial and logistical support to ISIS.” These designations – the third set in just seven months targeting a Turkey-based network – expose the extent to which the Islamic State has exploited the permissive environment Ankara has cultivated.
Monday’s designations by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned two Turkish brothers who act as IS procurement agents, Ahmet and Ismail Bayaltun, as well as multiple front companies responsible for providing financial and material support for IS. According to OFAC, these companies have facilitated transfers of money to IS operatives, held deposits from IS-linked individuals, and aided in the transfer of foreign donations to IS headquarters.
This round of sanctions follows designations released on April 15 and September 10, all of which demonstrate Washington’s heightened vigilance against IS financial networks operating within the borders of an increasingly adversarial NATO member state. Over the course of the Syrian civil war, Turkey’s Islamist government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned a blind eye to various jihadist groups exploiting its porous border. This year’s back-to-back designations show that Turkey remains a permissive jurisdiction for terrorist networks to operate.
Last month, after U.S. troops found and killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi less than three miles from Turkey’s border with Syria, the Erdogan government faced increased allegations of negligence and complicity with the jihadist group. Soon after, Ankara began a frantic roundup of IS operatives and associates within its jurisdiction. It also revealed it had been detaining key IS figures since 2018, but failed to mention them to allies for over a year.
The Turkish government simultaneously launched an aggressive public relations campaign to demonstrate its vigilance, with Erdogan and his officials giving statements almost daily on their latest successes against IS networks. In just the past month, Ankara announced the arrest of al-Baghdadi’s sister alongside seven other family members and five IS militants, including the group’s intelligence chief.
It is not clear whether Ankara’s newfound vigor will persist for long after Erdogan’s November 13 meeting with Donald Trump. Just this week, the head of Iraq’s Military Intelligence warned that senior IS figures have access to enormous amounts of cash and are forming new cells in Turkey. He added, “Those elements who are right now in Turkey play a key role in the recruitment of fighters and terrorists.”
Similarly, in a quarterly report that the Pentagon’s inspector general released on Tuesday, the Defense Intelligence Agency assessed that the Islamic State “exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops to reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad.”
Trump, who showered Erdogan with praise when the Turkish strongman visited Washington last week, would fare better by warning Erdogan not to undermine U.S. efforts to fight the Islamic State. If Erdogan invested as much effort in pursuing jihadists as he does in silencing dissidents, Turkey would no longer be a primary destination for the Islamic State and other extremists.
Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish parliament and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). Follow him on Twitter @aykan_erdemir. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.