Turkish Group Behind Gaza Flotilla Has Suspect Links, History

By Patrick Goodenough | June 4, 2010 | 4:53 AM EDT

The Israeli government is blaming IHH extremists for the violence that erupted onboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara when troops boarded it at sea on Monday. In this photo of the ship before setting sail, a white and green IHH banner is draped on the hull, between Turkish and Palestinian flags. (Photo: IHH)

(CNSNews.com) – The Turkish organization responsible for the ill-fated attempt to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is part of an Islamic “charitable” network that was designated by the U.S. government in 2008 for funding Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza.
Although the State Department points out that the Turkish group Insani Yardim Vakfi, known by the acronym IHH, “has not been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States,” the Hamas-funding network which the IHH belongs to, the Union of Good, is on a U.S. Treasury list of organizations sanctioned for links to terrorism.
Designation by the Treasury Department aims to disrupt funding to terrorists by prohibiting Americans from doing businesses with the listed entities, while freezing any assets they may have in the U.S.
“Funds raised by the Union of Good affiliates have been transferred to Hamas-managed organizations in the West Bank and Gaza,” the department said in announcing the designation. “In addition to providing cover for Hamas financial transfers, some of the funds transferred by the Union of Good have compensated Hamas terrorists by providing payments to the families of suicide bombers.”
Although the Nov. 2008 designation notice did not include a full list of Union of Good affiliates, when the Israeli government four months earlier announced that it was banning 36 Union of Good member organizations because of their support for Hamas, IHH was included on the list.
IHH was one of several organizations behind the Gaza flotilla and, according to its Web site, owns the Mavi Marmara, the ship where deadly clashes between Israeli commandos and pro-Palestinian activists erupted. Nine of the activists were killed.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) claims the troops opened fire in self defense after they were attacked with iron bars and other weapons – including firearms which it said had been wrested from the commandos. Photos released by the IDF showed knives, slingshots, rocks, smoke bombs, iron bars, sticks, hammers, firebombs and gasmasks, which Israel said had been found onboard the Mavi Marmara.
During an onboard press conference before the Mavi Marmara sailed last week, IHH leader Bulent Yildirim said, “In case of an attack, we are going to carry out nonviolent resistance. We do not even have a jackknife here, but we will not let the Israeli soldiers onboard this ship.”

Bulent Yildirim, the leader of Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), addresses supporters in front of the Mavi Marmara before the flotilla departed on its unsuccessful mission to break the blockade of Gaza. (Photo: IHH)

Back in Istanbul – after Israel under international pressure quickly deported all of the foreign activists – Yildirim spoke to Turkish reporters and described the reception given to the Israeli boarding party as “civilian resistance.”
Turkey’s Today’s Zaman quoted him as acknowledging that guns had been taken away from the Israelis, but claiming that the activists had thrown the weapons into the sea.
“At first our friends incapacitated 10 soldiers,” he said. “Yes, we took their guns and we would have been right if we used them against them. You are legally innocent if you take the weapon of the person who is attacking you.”
Yildirim said that when he was questioned later by the Israelis, “they asked us, ‘Didn’t you attack us with iron bars and axes?’ I told them what I did was only self-defense. This was defense against helicopters and assault boats, against well-trained commandos.”
He also hinted at pride in the fact the Israelis had been overwhelmed as they boarded.
“Those images were aired all over the world. The Israeli army had a strong image, but people now see that three to five activists can take them on,” he said.
Born in the Balkans
IHH, whose Web site details charitable work in many parts of the developing world, says it was formed in the early 1990s in response to the Bosnian war, to provide humanitarian assistance to Bosnian Muslims.
According to terrorism researchers, the Bosnian war was also an important recruiting tool and battleground for jihadists, including some deployed there by al-Qaeda.
A recent report by an Israel-based non-governmental institution, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, alleged that the IHH supported “jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia” and elsewhere.
In his 1999 biography of Osama bin Laden, author Yossef Bodansky of the U.S. Congress’ taskforce on terrorism and unconventional warfare wrote that in Bosnia, by 1994 “the terrorist forces were concealed as elite units of the Bosnian army or as members of Islamist ‘humanitarian work’ and ‘charity’ organizations.”
Although Bodansky did not name IHH in that context, a U.S. intelligence agency did in a 1996 report on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with terror links.
“A growing body of reporting indicates that some of these charities are being used to aid Islamic extremist groups that engage in terrorism,” the report said. “We have information that nearly one third of the Islamic NGOs in the Balkans have facilitated the activities of Islamic groups that engage in terrorism, including the Egyptian Al-Gama’at Al-Islamiyya, Palestinian Hamas, Algerian Groups, and Lebanese Hezbollah,” it said.
The report then named IHH as one of 15 organizations which it said “employ members or otherwise facilitate the activities of terrorist groups operating in Bosnia.”
Bahukutumbi Raman, an Indian former counterterrorism official and expert on South Asian terrorism, said this week that during the war in Bosnia many Bosnian Muslims were taken to Pakistan to be trained in camps run by a precursor organization to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), an al-Qaeda-linked group designated by the U.S. as a “foreign terrorist organization.” They then returned to Bosnia to participate in “the jihad against the Serbs.”
Raman said the IHH, under the cover of a humanitarian organization, had allegedly coordinated the provision of volunteers, funding and weapons.
“The humanitarian cover was allegedly used for keeping alive the Bosnian jihad and enabling it to succeed against the Serbs.”
“The IHH allegedly played a similar role in Chechnya,” he said. “It then turned its attention to helping the Kashmiris by funding refugee camps for Kashmiris.” Those camps “also became training centers for training Kashmiri and Pakistani jihadis for fighting against the Indian security forces.”
IHH denies terror links, and the Turkish government has reacted angrily to Israeli allegations about the group.
“I have heard official statements claiming that the civilians on the ships were members of a radical Islamist group,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said during Monday’s emergency Security Council meeting on the flotilla raid.
“It saddens me to see that officials of a state stoop so low as to lie and struggle to create pretexts that would legitimize their illegal actions,” he said.
During the same Security Council meeting Israel’s deputy ambassador, Daniel Carmon, said of the IHH that “alongside its legitimate humanitarian activities, it supports radical Islamic networks such as Hamas, and at least in the past has even supported global jihad elements, such as al-Qaeda.”
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow