Turkish police recently raided the homes of, and detained, more than a dozen nationals suspected of "joining conflicts in Syria, providing logistics and money, and recruiting for [terrorist] organizations."
Four days after the raids, which were carried out on January 13, all thirteen detainees were released -- eleven of them pending trial and the other two on judicial control. The Turkish government-run Anadolu Agency, which reported on the detentions, later removed the story from its website and social media pages.
Among the detainees was Hasan Süslü, president of the NGO Fukara-Der (Aid and Solidarity Association for the Poor), suspected of aiding Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) -- a coalition of al Qaeda-affiliated groups, formerly known as the al Nusra Front, and currently the dominant jihadist force in Idlib in northern Syria.
Ankara says it wants to establish a "buffer zone" around Idlib to prevent a Syrian government attack on the country's last major jihadi-held area. The raids and brief detentions of HTS suspects in Turkey came three days after HTS reportedly "sealed its grip on northern Idlib. HTS signed a ceasefire with what was left of a rival alliance that sees it confirm its supremacy and unites the region under a jihadist-led administration."
According to analyst Sam Heller from the International Crisis Group, now HTS "can present itself to Turkey and others as an indispensable interlocutor in any non-military solution to Idlib."
The police raids and brief detentions of HTS suspects in Turkey, then, could be a warning to the jihadists "not to bite the hand that feeds them" -- the "hand" being those organizations in Turkey, including Fukara-Der, that have been providing aid to northern Syria for years.
Fukara-Der was established in 2013 in southern Turkey, near the Syrian border. The NGO claims to provide "humanitarian aid" to Syrians, but there are strong suspicions that it is also providing logistical support, goods and services to terrorist groups.
"We get most of our donations from abroad through the bank accounts we share on social media," Fukara-Der's president Süslü said in a 2014 interview. "And most of the donations are from the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium."
These donations and Fukara-Der's other activities in Europe -- such as its cooperation with "Care For Others" of Denmark, BabyCare, the Rotterdam "All for Life" foundation and Ibaadu Ar-Rahmaan of the Netherlands -- have come under increased scrutiny.
According to a recent article in the Dutch newspaper,
"[Süslü's] aid convoys often go to Syrian areas that have been conquered by terrorist groups. For example, according to [Fukara-Der's] own posts on social media, S. distributed Dutch aid packages in October 2017 in the Syrian city of Saraqib, [which] is currently under the control of HTS. Earlier that year, he distributed relief goods in the city of Maarrat al-Numan, where at that time HTS was also in power."
Rodger Shanahan, a Middle East expert at Australia's Lowy Institute, told NRC Handelsblad that nobody can enter the above areas without being involved with terrorist groups, which "demand money to help them."
The NRC Handelsblad article also cited a 2014 interview with the Turkish newspaper Haksöz, in which Süslü said that he provides help to families of "martyrs" and jihadist "mudjahedeen." In addition, according to NRC Handelsblad, Süslü headlined a Facebook photo of praying jihadist fighters with the comment: "You are doing a great service to Islam," a quote from a fallen commander saying, "If America invades Syria, we will stop the fight against Assad and we will fight against the Americans."
"The fact that [Süslü] claims to provide help to families of combatants amounts to supporting the fight itself...." Shanahan told NRC Handelsblad "It is hard to believe that [Fukara-Der's] help only goes to small babies and not to buying weapons and food for fighters.'"
Meanwhile, according to NRC Handelsblad,
"Various Dutch organizations continue to cooperate with [Süslü],.. including Ibaadu Ar-Rahmaan,.. a foundation... co-founded by 29-year-old Jeroen van D., a man from Almere who converted to Islam. With Ibaadu Ar-Rahmaan ("Worshipers of the Merciful") he collects money in mosques for projects all over the world, including in Syria. The initiators bring the money themselves.
"They had brought thousands of euros collected, says a former volunteer of Ibaadu Ar-Rahmaan, who was traveling with Jeroen van D. Arriving in Turkey, they gave the money to [Süslü]... After the visit to [Süslü], the volunteer team left for the Netherlands. But Jeroen van D. returned quickly on his own: not to provide [humanitarian aid], but to join Jabhat al-Nusra as a warrior."
Another Dutch organization that the NRC Handelsblad article claims works with Süslü and was allowed to cross the Turkish border into Syria with him is BabyCare; its volunteers appear in a 2014 photo "posing with ISIS fighters on a square in Raqqa, the headquarters of the caliphate that had just been proclaimed."
Süslü's organization, Fukara-Der, was among 39 Islamic organization that in 2016 issued a public statement endorsing jihad in Syria. The statement read, in part:
"[T]oday, on the fertile lands of Damascus, the kafirs [infidels] are warring with full effort to annihilate Islam and so many valiant people from Baghdad, Saudi Arabia, Turkistan, Chechnya, Antep [southeast Turkey], and Anatolian territories go there and shield their bodies in the face of this merciless war.
"Through this insurgency, we are witnessing the blessings of struggling on the path of Allah by believing in and submitting to him. And we do believe that Allah's help is near.
"It is undeniable that we as Muslims from Turkey have been doing our best to embrace the Syrian Muslims and aid the downtrodden and the heroes in Syria by sending them food and clothes... To this end, we have come together with a group of young people that have been girded with the faith of the heroes in Syria and their submission to Allah."
It appears that many radicals in Turkey have established an international network to sustain the jihadist terrorists in Syria. Because this network operates under the guise of "charity," European governments are having difficulty monitoring its activities -- particularly in jihadist-controlled territory -- and holding the perpetrators to account. This difficulty is undoubtedly compounded by the leniency with which the Turkish jihadists and their NGO facilitators have been treated by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute. She is currently based in Washington D.C.