A now-familiar pattern of judiciary action followed by anti-judiciary purges – which has in recent weeks marked the open political warfare being waged by rival Islamist camps inside Turkey – expanded this week as police forces raided the headquarters of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a group with close ties to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The moves were the latest in a series of attacks and counterattacks, pitting figures linked to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen on one side and the AKP and its supporters on the other. Last December Gulenist officials inside Turkey’s judiciary launched and then widened a series of anti-corruption probes targeting AKP elites, and the AKP subsequently responded with mass purges of police officers involved in those probes. Turkish media reported that, true to form, two anti-terror police unit chiefs involved in this week’s anti-terror raids on the IHH and on the Al Qaeda-linked groups were dismissed in the raids’ aftermath.
Only a few hours after the raids, two anti-terror police unit chiefs who were among the teams who planned and carried out the operation have been dismissed. Both Kilis province anti-terror department chief Devlet Çıngı and Van province anti-terror department chief Serdar Bayraktutan were relocated by a sudden decision from the respective Governor’s Office with which they are affiliated. The Interior Ministry had previously responded raids conducted as part of graft investigation by orchestrating a massive purge within the police department.
The incident is, however, already being read beyond the political battles between the AKP and the Gulenist movement.
The incident is one of several in recent months that would appear to vindicate Israel’s stance that the Turkish-run flotilla was not the purely peaceful convoy it was made out to be. Two weeks ago, Turkish security forces stopped an IHH truck that was supposed to be carrying humanitarian aid to Syria, but was in fact filled with weapons. (The drivers claimed they were working for the IHH; the organization claimed they were not.)
The IHH’s close ties to Ankara’s AKP government have the potential to deepen growing concerns that AKP figures are permitting Turkish territory and even assets to be used to promote terrorism. The IHH, which has been designated as a terrorist entity by Amsterdam and Berlin, was the central player in the 2010 naval “flotilla” effort to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israeli commandos intercepted a vessel sailed by IHH members and were attacked by those on board. Nine people died in the ensuing fighting, which escalated into an international incident and largely collapsed already-fraying Israeli-Turkish ties. The Israelis claimed that the IHH is entangled in terror activities, and that the flotilla was not meant to be peaceful. Turkish officials and some analysts abroad argued the opposite.
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