November 16, 2023 | Townhall

Turkey’s ‘Aid’ Organization Is a Front for Supporting Terrorism

November 16, 2023 | Townhall

Turkey’s ‘Aid’ Organization Is a Front for Supporting Terrorism

Turkey’s premier aid organization, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms (IHH), with strong links to the government, actively supports terrorist causes and should be designated as a Foreign (FTO) Terrorist Organization by the United States. 

For some “it’s a humanitarian organization,” while for others, it is has been referred to as a “one-stop shopping spot for terrorism.” In actuality, it is a confluence of both. Established in 1992, IHH has built a reputation that provides humanitarian relief to primarily Muslim countries. Since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to come in 2003, the organization has become intertwined with his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP). Many members of the IHH’s governing body are also AKP officials. This includes Ankara’s current ambassador to Washington, Murat Mercan, who in 2010, wanted to sail on an ‘humanitarian aid’ mission to Gaza, but was ultimately talked down by the Turkish foreign ministry. By itself, there is nothing wrong with this, as Erdogan has used IHH as a means to display Turkey’s growing soft power influence in the world. IHH has provided disaster relief in many parts of the world to include Haiti, Yemen and Darfur. 

The picture becomes more sinister however, when one takes a closer look at IHH’s relationship with Jihadist entities. This is most visible in IHH’s relationship with Hamas, and significant as Ankara is keen on using IHH to deliver ‘humanitarian aid’ to Palestinians caught up in the present conflict. Israel is rightfully suspicious, and for good reasons. Jerusalem designated IHH as a terrorist entity in 2008, mainly owing to its membership of the ‘Union of Good’—a Muslim Brotherhood coalition of Muslim charities, known to raise funds for Hamas and sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury. Any potential aid going to Gaza with IHH labels is likely to be heavily inspected by Israeli authorities to ensure that no dual use goods fall into the hands of Hamas terrorists.

In 2010, IHH was the organization that sponsored the ‘aid flotilla’ from Turkey to Gaza. The attempt to deliver humanitarian aid became famous, after Israeli special forces boarded the Mavi Marmara-the lead ship in the flotilla, in order to prevent the ships from breaching Israel’s blockade of Gaza. While the Turkish government tried to cry foul and accuse Israel of being a cruel state for preventing aid from reaching desperate Gazan’s, it conveniently forgets that the supposed aid workers were armed with weapons, opened fire on Israeli troops, while calling for “jihad, martyrdom and violence.”  

IHH’s activities should also be concerning for the Biden administration. It’s leader Bulent Yildirim makes no secret of his anti-American and anti-Israeli opinions. Following the October 7 massacres in Israel, Yıldırım has spoken at a number of pro-Hamas rallies, often asking for the world to put an end to “the fascist, racist, apartheidd [Israeli] regime.” His comments are part of a long campaign to undermine the United States’ and Israel’s security. During the Iraq war, IHH was identified as having representatives on the ground in Fallujah (2004), which at the time was controlled by al-Qaeda forces. In 2001, French magistrate Bruguiere  testified in U.S. District Court, pointing out that IHH played “[a]n important role” in the al-Qaeda millennium bomb plot targeting Los Angeles International Airport.” 

Special consideration should be given to IHH’s links to the Islamic State (ISIS). According to testimonies given by former ISIS members in 2014, IHH attempted to ship weapons to ISIS from Turkey to Syria, which IHH officials denied. The incident raised eyebrows in Western capitals, and came to be known as the “MIT truck” incident, implicating Turkey’s state intelligence service and IHH with providing material support to ISIS. Such activities increased pressure on the Obama administration to designate IHH as a foreign terrorist organization, but the initiative never materialized due to hesitation on part of the U.S. government. 

It is clear that IHH intends to continue its support of jihadist entities in the region, which is now laser focused on aiding Hamas’ which seeks to carry out further atrocities in Israel. What is not clear, is that given the history of IHH’s ties to radical extremist entities, and its proven track record in supporting terrorism, why then does the United States and the European Union still shy away from designating this entity as a terrorist organization? Attacks against Israeli civilians are now being compounded by attacks against U.S. forces, and all carried out by Iranian-backed proxies. Designating IHH as an FTO should be low hanging fruit for the Biden administration, so that risk to the lives of U.S. forces and our Israeli allies is minimized to the greatest extent possible. 

Sinan Ciddi is a non-resident senior fellow at FDD and an expert on Turkish domestic politics and foreign policy.


Israel Israel at War Jihadism Turkey