Sunday, June 06, 2010

6-Jun-10: It's not that complicated: Is IHH a humanitarian group or a terrorist group?

The thug-enhanced flotilla that sought to break through the Israeli embargo on the port of Gaza was backed by a Turkish organization called IHH (Islan Haklary Ve Hurriyetleri Vakfi in Turkish). Are they pure as the driven snow? Or is this an organization compromised by deep connection to terrorism?

It's worrying and infuriating to see how this straightforward matter is being manipulated so that the credibility of the answer depends on how much you hate Israel.

First, the relatively uncontroversial aspects... IHH was founded in 1992. The CIA began tracking them in 1996 because of a perception of radical Islamist leanings. As one study has observed: "Like many other Islamist charities, the IHH has a record of providing relief to areas where disaster has struck in the Muslim world. However, the organization is not a force for good."

That study explains:
"That's because the Turkish nonprofit belongs to a Saudi-based umbrella organization known to finance terrorism called the Union of Good (Ittilaf al-Kheir in Arabic). Notably, the Union is chaired by Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, who is known best for his religious ruling that encourages suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.  According to one report, Qardawi personally transferred millions of dollars to the Union in an effort to provide financial support to Hamas"
Their activities caught the attention of Evan Kohlmann, an investigator of terrorist groups. He published a little-noticed essay titled "Shooting the Messenger: A Look at the Facts on the Turkish Aid Group IHH" a few days ago. It's worth a few moments' reading.
When I first published a research paper four years ago with the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) on the Turkish Muslim charitable group Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), I didn't imagine it would get much of a response outside the academic conference in which it was presented in Copenhagen. However, as a result of this weekend's tragic Israeli raid on an IHH-sponsored flotilla of vessels attempting to break the ongoing blockade on Gaza, the group has suddenly jumped into the headlines, and has become a focus of intense debate over the intentions of the flotilla organizers and the controversial killing of at least 9 would-be participants by Israeli commandos.
...I'm rather mystified why the flotilla killings--whether right or wrong--would have any bearing on the factual question of whether the IHH has engaged in illicit financing and episodic support to extremist groups. The evidence in this regard is fairly weighty, and much of it comes directly from the Turkish government -- not the United States, nor the Israelis.
He describes how Turkish police raided IHH headquarters in Istanbul at the end of 1997 and had its leaders arrested. Five months later, they faced formal legal charges connected with explosives, bomb making and jihad. Evidence was presented from a French source that IHH's true goals were
"overthrowing democratic, secular, and constitutional order present in Turkey and replacing it with an Islamic state founded on the Shariah."
A second line of connection to jihad: IHH was connected to the attempt by a a jihadist, Ahmed Ressam, the so-called Millenium bomber. Ressam was convicted of attempting to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on New Year's Eve 1999. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison, but in February 2010 an appellate court held the sentence to be too lenient, and ordered that it be extended. In that prosecution, the noted French counter-terrorism magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere took the stand and testified that IHH had played what he called "an important role" in the LAX plot:
"The IHH is an NGO (a non-governmental organization) but it was kind of a type of cover-up… in order to obtain forged documents and also to obtain different forms of infiltration for Mujahideen in combat. And also to go and gather[recruit] these Mujahideens. And finally, one of the last responsibilities that they had was also to be implicated or involved in weapons trafficking."
As Evan Kohlmann writes, none of this information is sensitive or secret.
"Nor is it particularly difficult to come by. Turkish government officials have openly acknowledged as much in major Western media outlets."
The French judge was interviewed in the last few days by Associated Press.
The Istanbul-based Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, known by its Turkish acronym IHH, had "clear, long-standing ties to terrorism and Jihad," former investigating judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
This information is freely available on the web. You don't need to be a terrorism specialist to see and be troubled by it. So why are otherwise credible sources raising snakey questions that undermine the allegations against IHH as if they were part of an Israeli conspiracy? For instance:
  • "The IHH has been accused by Israel of funneling support to militant organizations across the Muslim world, a charge the group denies."[Christian Science Monitor]
  •  "'Terror' smear against IHH springs from a familiar source" [Mondoweiss - and no prizes for figuring out where that familiar source resides]
  • "Israel starts smear campaign in EU against Turkish charity" [World Bulletin]
  • "The Islamic charity which largely funded the aid flotilla... Its inspiration is unapologetically religious but the IHH insists its mission is purely humanitarian, despite Israeli claims that it supports the armed activities of Hamas. It is certainly rich. ...It bought a 15-year-old ferry, the Mavi Marmara, for more than $1m (£686,000). It also has some powerful backers in the governing party, the AKP." [BBC]
You don't need to buy Israel's case to see that, being generous, IHH has a murky past and a highly compromised standpoint when it comes to jihad and acts of terror.

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