Whistleblower exposes Turkey & NATO arming and funding ISIS

Whistleblower exposes how NATO’s leading ally is arming and funding ISIS

“I am the police chief who was asked to guard ISIS terrorists”

By Nafeez Ahmed

This exclusive is published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a crowdfunded investigative journalism project for the global commons. Support us to keep digging where others fear to tread

+ Turkey’s intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, named as member of terror group linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS

+ Turkish intelligence directly supplied military aid to ISIS for years

+ Turkish government siphoned military supplies to ISIS through humanitarian relief agency

+ ISIS fighters, including al-Baghadi’s deputy, received free medical treatment in Turkey and “protection” from Turkish police

+ Head of ISIS in Turkey received “24/7 protection” under the personal order of President Erdogan

+ Turkish police investigations into ISIS are being systematically quashed

+ ISIS oil is sold with complicity of authorities in Turkey and Kurdish region of northern Iraq

+ NATO affirms Turkey’s role as ally in war on ISIS

A former senior counter-terrorism official in Turkey has blown the whistle on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s deliberate sponsorship of the Islamic State (ISIS) as a geopolitical tool to expand Turkey’s regional influence and sideline his political opponents at home.

Ahmet Sait Yayla was Chief of the Counter-Terrorism and Operations Division of Turkish National Police between 2010 and 2012, before becoming Chief of the Public Order and Crime Prevention Division until 2014. Previously, he had worked in the Counter-Terrorism and Operations Division as a mid-level manager for his entire 20-year police tenure, before becoming Chief of Police in Ankara and Sanliurfa.

In interviews with INSURGE intelligence, Yayla exclusively revealed that he had personally witnessed evidence of high-level Turkish state sponsorship of ISIS during his police career, which eventually led him to resign. He decided to become a whistleblower after Erdogan’s authoritarian crackdown following the failed military coup in July. This is the first time that the former counter-terrorism chief has spoken on the record to reveal what he knows about Turkish government aid to Islamist terror groups.

Ahmet Sait Yayla

The former Turkish National Police counter-terrorism chief is speaking out at considerable risk to his own family. As part of Erdogan’s crackdown after the failed military coup in July, Yayla’s 19 year old son was prevented from leaving the country, and eventually arrested on terrorism charges.

When I first spoke to Yayla, he had just launched his new book in Washington DC, ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate, co-authored with Professor Anne Speckhard, a NATO and Pentagon consultant specialising in the psychology of radicalisation.

“Turkey is supporting Islamic State and other jihadist groups,” said Yayla.

“I know this firstly as a former chief of Turkish national police and what I experienced there, which is the reason I ended up leaving the police. And secondly, due to former ISIS terrorists whom I have interviewed as part of my research into the jihadist phenomenon — many of whom say that ISIS enjoys official Turkish support.”

Targeted by Erdogan’s counter-coup

Yayla is the first Turkish counter-terrorism official to claim firsthand knowledge of Erdogan’s secret support for Islamist terrorist groups. He has intimate knowledge of the government’s relationship with ISIS, having worked closely with senior government officials in Ankara — including Erdogan himself — to discuss operations.

After my initial interview with Yayla, I had countless further questions about his specific experiences of Turkey’s sponsorship of ISIS. But I was having difficulties reaching him.

Eventually, I received an email on 30 July clarifying the reason for the silence.

“I am sorry I could not get back to you,” wrote Yayla: “I was trying to get my son out of Turkey and he was held at the border without any reasons. He is a college student, 19 year old boy. They do not explain anything and just hold him at the border police. Of course, the reason is me, what I am writing and my stand against Erdogan. We are so stressed up with him being detained. As you know torture and other atrocities that I would not want to think of have become ordinary for the last two weeks in Turkey. Let me handle this crisis and speak to you later if you don’t mind.”

Yayla’s son is Yavuz Yayla, a student of international relations at Cukurova University. I could not imagine what Yayla was going through. Then, within days, the situation escalated:

“Unfortunately, they arrested my son,” Yayla wrote in a further email.

“The charge is having a one dollar bill in his backpack, a sign he is accused of being among the coup supporters. He is 19, first year college student, does not have anything to do with anyone or with any coupists, but it is only to get revenge on me because I am screaming the facts and Erdogan does not like it.”

Despite his own direct knowledge of the corruption of Turkey’s national security system, Yayla was taken aback by the development:

“I have never thought they would go that low. You just cannot do anything. Literally, in the indictment the prosecutor submitted two evidences to his being a terrorist, trying to leave the country through legal means from a border gate where he was stopped due to the fact that he had officer’s passport (green passport as he can only go to EU without visa with this passport and I got it from the University) and having a one dollar bill in his backpack which he had taken from me years ago when I came back from a conference in the US. We are at a point that words cannot describe the frustration we are having individually or as the victims of this coup attempt.”

I first spoke to Yayla at length on 4 August by telephone. His voice was noticeably subdued compared to our initial conversation. The first thing he told me was that he had not been able to stop crying, due to fear of what would happen to his son.

The situation was intractable. To get his son released, Yayla needed to find a good and brave lawyer. But lawyers were already being purged by Erdogan — especially lawyers that agreed to take cases of people arrested by authorities for being linked to the coup.

“So I can’t find a lawyer,” said Yayla. “The lawyers are afraid. All they are saying is ‘We have family too, they will arrest us too.’”

Teams of counter-terrorism officers had been sent to the home of Yayla’s father in Ankara. They had searched the house, and asked repeated questions about Ahmet himself. Since then, Yavuz Yayla remains in indefinite detention on terrorism charges, and appeal proceedings have been unsuccessful.

For Yayla, the real target of these actions is obvious.

“They want to silence me,” he said regarding the Erdogan administration:

“I know several internal understandings. How they were helping ISIS directly.”

In the two months during his son’s detention, Yayla has been unable to communicate with his son by phone, although inmates have the right to a ten minute phone call every week.

By early September, the Turkish authorities temporarily released Yavuz with all his personal belongings, only to detain him again at the door of the prison. This time he was re-arrested on the grounds that his passport had been canceled by the government. The lawyer whom Ahmet had eventually found for his son pulled out of the case under pressure from Turkish intelligence.

In reality, the cancellation of Yavuz’s passport was linked to his father. Turkish authorities had cancelled the passports of Ahmet Yayla and his family members in July 2016, after Yayla wrote an article in the World Policy Journal highlighting evidence of Erdogan’s support for terrorism.

But that article barely scratched the surface of what Ahmet Yayla knows firsthand about the Turkish government’s incestuous relationship with ISIS.

Humanitarian terror

Yayla said that controversial allegations in the Turkish press concerning support to militant groups in Syria through a Turkish charitable NGO, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), are entirely accurate reflections of a murky relationship between the Turkish government and jihadist groups.

On 3 January 2014, the centrist Turkish daily Hurriyet reported that a significant quantity of ammunition and weapons were found by Turkish police in trucks transporting aid on behalf of the IHH to Islamist rebels in Syria.

It soon emerged from prosecutor and witness testimony of the police officers in court proceedings that the trucks were alleged to have been accompanied by officials from the Turkish state National Intelligence Organisation (MIT).

The testimony in court documents claimed that rocket parts, ammunition and mortar shells had been found in trucks delivering supplies to areas of Syria under the control of jihadist groups in late 2013 and early 2014.

However, Erdogan’s government banned all Turkish media from further reporting on the court proceedings. The allegations, claimed the government, were part of a conspiracy to undermine Erdogan’s presidency — organised by the exiled Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who is resident in the United States.

According to Ahmet Yayla, however, the allegations against Erdogan and IHH are accurate, and have nothing to do with a Gulenist conspiracy.

“I was indirectly involved early on in the counter-terrorism investigations into IHH,” said Yayla.

“The leader of the IHH was arrested as a result of these investigations at the time, due to the evidence we had obtained that the group is behind much of the support to ISIS. IHH have provided weapons and ammunition to many jihadist groups in Syria, not just ISIS.”

Yayla notes that the 2010 Gaza flotilla, where an IHH operated vessel was prevented from carrying humanitarian supplies into Gaza by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), had been arranged with Erdogan’s approval:

“Erdogan wanted people to think he was supporting Jerusalem and Palestine, by forcing this ship to Gaza. He expected to become a hero. Instead, people were killed. But Erdogan used the incident to radicalise people in Turkey around himself.”

Even before the flotilla incident, IHH had become the primary partner of the Turkish International Cooperation Agency (TIKA) — the Turkish government’s official aid agency — to distribute humanitarian aid all over the world.

“Except, it wasn’t only humanitarian goods IHH was distributing. Amongst the goods, were weapons,” said Yayla.

Militant roots

IHH’s chief benefactor in the Turkish government was Hakan Fidan, who headed up TIKA from 2003 to 2007. A former Turkish military officer, he became deputy undersecretary to the Prime Minister in 2007. Since 2010, he has been head of the Turkish state intelligence agency, MIT.

Hakan Fidan, head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT)

But according to Ahmet Yayla, Fidan was a prime suspect in a series of terrorism attacks in the 1990s — when Yayla worked as a police officer in Ankara. The attacks involved targeted assassinations of leftwing Turkish intellectuals affiliated with the newspaper Cumhuriyet, in the form of car bombings and exploding parcels. The victims included journalist Ugur Mumtu, women’s rights activist Bahriye Ucok, and intellectual Ahmet Taner Kislali.

Police operations traced the perpetrators of the attacks to a terrorist cell run by the Turkish Hizbollah (TH). Two key individuals now close to Erdogan were identified by police as members of the cell: Hakan Fidan and Faruk Koca, a founding member of the ruling AKP.

Turkish Hizbollah is a Sunni Islamist terrorist organisation that emerged in the 1980s, originally run by a Kurdish faction. It is particularly active against the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK), and openly endorses violence as a means to establish an Islamic state in Turkey.

The group has no ties with the Lebanese group of the same name. But according to Yayla, Turkish police operations revealed that TH had ties to senior elements of Turkey’s security apparatus, as well as strong relationships to post-revolutionary Iranian intelligence officials.

A Human Rights Watch background briefing published in 2000 documented an alarming pattern of links between Turkish security forces and TH, including testimony from senior Turkish government officials — such as cabinet minister Fikri Saglar, who claimed that the Turkish Hizbullah was from inception controlled by “the Armed Forces” and “expanded and strengthened on the basis of a decision at the National Security Council in 1985.”

In April 1995, an official Turkish Parliamentary report concluded that Turkish “military units” were providing “assistance” to a secret Turkish Hizbullah camp “in the region of Seku, Gönüllü and Çiçekli villages, in the Gercüs district of Batman.”

TH has since been designated as a terrorist organisation by the State Department.

Over the last decade, while TH has not renounced its commitment to violence, it has focused on political activities.

Yet its violent legacy lives on. There is a direct line of descent between TH, al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Halis Bayancuk, whose nom de guerre is Abu Hanzala, is the emir of ISIS in Turkey. Previously, Turkey’s state-run national public broadcaster, TRT, identified Bayancuk as the head of al-Qaeda’s Turkey branch. But Bayancuk is also the son of Haci Bayancuk, one of the founding members of TH.

Halis Bayancuk (right), the emir of ISIS in Turkey and son of Haci Bayancuk, a founding member of the Turkish Hizbullah is pictured here during an arrest by Turkish police. He is not handcuffed. Ahmet Yayla explains that under Erdogan, ISIS operatives have such free reign they are never handcuffed by Turkish police if they are arrested

Police operations in 2007 in Bingol and Koceeli, and in 2008 in Istanbul, Ankara and Diyarbakir, revealed high level cooperation between TH leaders and al-Qaeda. One al-Qaeda network in Turkey led by Muhammed Yasar was found to have operated on behalf of TH.

Emrullah Uslu, a former policy analyst in the Turkish National Police Counter-Terrorism Unit, says that most of the members of al-Qaeda’s network in Turkey “have had contact” with TH.

Today, a splinter faction of TH that has recruited new Salafi-jihadists to its fold is now “fighting alongside ISIS and other extremist factions in Syria,” reports Turkish journalist Sibel Hurtas.

“Hundreds of pages of documentation about the Turkish Hizbullah were uncovered in the Ankara police raids that occurred at the time,” said Yayla regarding the wave of murders in the 1990s:

“The files proved direct ties between Iranian intelligence, and two figures who are now extremely close to Erdogan: Hakan Fidan and Faruk Koca. And they showed that both Fidan and Koca were part of the Turkish Hizbullah terrorist cell behind those bombings.”

Due to the police investigation, Fidan fled Turkey to Germany, then moved to the US where he continued to live in exile. When the AKP took power under Erdogan, however, Fidan returned to Turkey and reprised his role as head of the Turkish aid agency, his ‘wanted’ status inexplicably disappearing.

Daesh: bastard spawn of the Turkish deep state

Due to its humanitarian credentials, the IHH, now partnered with the Turkish government under Fidan’s leadership of TIKA, provided the “perfect cover” for Erdogan to escalate his covert Syria strategy.

The covert strategy continued as Fidan went on to become head of Turkish state intelligence.

If Yayla’s claims are correct, then the current head of Turkey’s powerful MIT under Erdogan is a member of the al-Qaeda affiliated Turkish Hizbullah, responsible for terrorist murders of leftwing dissidents in the 1990s.

From around 2012 onwards, Yayla explained, several hundred trucks of supplies were being sent by IHH to Syria.

Describing several active police operations against IHH due to the agency’s relationships with al-Qaeda, Yayla confirmed that one major operation involving anti-terror raids in Gazientep, Van, Kilis, Istanbul, Adana and Kayseri had uncovered IHH’s close working relationship with senior al-Qaeda and ISIS operatives, by supplying arms to jihadist groups across the border.

While Erdogan and his ministers condemned the police operation, Yayla, who has briefed Erdogan as Chief of Police in Ankara, confirmed that the operation was the result of an ongoing police investigation into jihadist support within Turkey — not a Gulenist conspiracy.

But IHH was only one conduit for these operations in support of Syrian jihadists.

“The rest of the operations were carried out directly by the MIT,” said Yayla. “The MIT openly carried weapons and explosives to Syria by truck as well as by actual fighters being transported by busses, several times. Some of them were caught by Turkish police.”

Thousands of foreign fighters have swarmed into Turkey over the last few years to join groups fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

For the first time, Ahmet Yayla’s interviews with INSURGE intelligence provide direct insider confirmation not only that Erdogan’s government had turned a blind eye to the movement of these fighters across the border into Syria — but that Turkish police had detected the role of Turkey’s state intelligence agency in the foreign fighter funnel, which had involved direct assistance to ISIS:

“The MIT agency transported ISIS terrorists from Hatay to Sanliurfa in buses in 2014 and 2015. Sometimes they would be dropped off at the border, other times they would be transported across the border. When the terrorists would return to Turkey, they were often stopped for routine drug control. In the buses, Turkish border guards found Kalashnikovs and ammunition. The occupants were arrested and questioned, and the drivers openly admitted that MIT had hired them to transport those terrorists and foreign fighters.”

Yayla was not directly involved in these operations, but became aware of their damning findings during his senior police role, as he had unrestricted access to the relevant records.

Bombs for charity

IHH has long been suspected of terrorism ties by Western intelligence agencies.

A confidential State Department cable from the US embassy in Istanbul obtained by Wikileaks, dated 21 July 2006, confirms that the IHH is “suspected by some of international terrorism financing… In 1997 local officers at IHH’s Istanbul headquarters were arrested after a raid by security forces uncovered firearms, explosives and bomb-making instructions.”

The cable describes a funeral memorial for the death of al-Qaeda affiliated Chechen military commander Shamil Basayev, co-organised by IHH, and personally attended by IHH’s president, Bulent Yildirim.

Basayev was designated by the State Department as a terrorist individual in 2003 due to his admitted involvement in several massacres of civilian hostages and suicide bombings, as well as his “links to al-Qaeda.”

In that context, the rest of the secret cable is worth noting:

“Mourners continued chanting Arabic slogans interspersed with the following phrases in Turkish: ‘Killer Russians — out of Chechnya,’ ‘Killer Israelis — Out of Palestine,’ ‘Killer Americans — Out of the Middle East,’ ‘Shamil Basayev — Your way is our way,’ and ‘Hamas — Go on Resisting.’ As a possible reference to the upcoming election season, Yildirim also had a message for the Turkish Government, ‘Don’t support these infidels — if you go straight, we’re ready to follow you.’ Mid-way through the ceremony, participants burned a flag — which we could not see — to the crowd’s great delight. As for Basayev, Yildirim praised the fact that he didn’t compromise, claiming that he aimed for independence and died for God and the cause.”

Yayla confirmed that the IHH police raid in 1997 had identified direct ties between the charity and al-Qaeda. IHH personnel, he said, were being prepared for combat operations in Chechnya, Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Documents found during the raid revealed that weapons were being secretly supplied to groups connected to Osama bin Laden.

ISIS supporters also regularly transport parts to engineer make-shift explosive devices across the Turkish-Syria border with impunity.

Photographs provided exclusively to INSURGE by Yayla, which he obtained directly from former ISIS members, depict ISIS members handling so-called “hell fireball bombs” made from liquid petroleum gas tanks, the parts for which are manufactured in Konya, an inner city in Turkey where hundreds of ISIS supporters reside.

“The former ISIS member said that these supplies are coming from sources protected by Turkish security forces,” said Yayla.

Yayla’s defector source confirmed that the parts are hauled by truck across the border into Syria to make the bombs. The trucks routinely pass through Turkish customs without problems. “They killed hundreds of civilians and kids,” said Yayla.

“They are very effective. The defector was explaining they are at least ten times more powerful and lethal than regular mortars. All the materials to these bombs were hauled to Syria from Turkey and they were purchased from Turkey.”

The police chief ordered to guard ISIS

But it is Ahmet Yayla’s personal experience of Turkish official sponsorship of ISIS that is, perhaps, most damning of all.

“I have several times witnessed with my own eyes and ears the Governor of Sanliurfa [a city next to the Turkey-Syria border] talking to leaders of terrorist groups in Syria,” said Yayla.

In several high-level security meetings involving the chiefs of police, Yayla and his colleagues would wait while the governor finished his phone calls with rebel leaders.

“It was really shocking,” Yayla recalled. “He would openly talk about the situation in Syria, and repeatedly ask over the phone how he could assist in providing whatever they needed, food or medicine, literally whatever they needed.”

Things came to a head when the governor — who is a political appointee of the Ministry of Interior — began demanding that Yayla oversee the protection of hundreds of ISIS fighters who were being shipped into Turkey to receive medical treatment.

“I am the police chief who was asked by the governor to guard ISIS terrorists. And I assigned police officers to this task,” said Yayla. “The official police records of this policy still exist, and can be seen in the assignment programmes. These records cannot be destroyed.”

“I was the officer assigned to have the police guard those terrorists”, he repeated, the disbelief palpable in his tone.

Fighting close to the Turkish border had become so intense from 2013 onwards that hundreds of jihadist rebels had been injured:

“ISIS fighters were being brought across the border into Sanliurfa to be treated in Turkish hospitals. As chief of police, I was being asked by the governor to send my officers to provide 24/7 protection for those wounded terrorists. It got to the point that there were so many ISIS members being treated, I couldn’t even find enough officers to guard those terrorists. We were suffering from a severe shortage of manpower because of these demands. When it reached that point, I had no choice but to tell the governor, you know, that I really don’t care about this anymore, and I told him, look, I don’t have the manpower, the city is suffering — I can’t do my job.”

The governor was upset, said Yayla, but due to the sheer volume of ISIS fighters coming into Turkey for medical treatment, his demands could not be met.

Fadhul Ahmed al-Hayali, ISIS former no. 2, was secretly provided medical treatment by the Turkish authorities

“It was so crazy you could see ambulances coming in with European plates carrying ISIS members,” said Yayla.

“In fact, al-Baghdadi’s deputy, Fadhil Ahmed al Hayali, was wounded by an American bombardment. He lost his leg, and he was brought into one of the hospitals and treated. After that he went back to Syria. No one charged any money for the treatment. It was completely free.”

The policy of providing free medical assistance to ISIS fighters lasted for two years until 2015. Pressure from President Obama to close the borders led Erdogan to wind down the policy that year.

Stop fighting terrorists

Yayla’s open misgivings about the compromising of police operations eventually led the governor to force him out of counter-terrorism.

“I was so keen on fighting against terrorism that I created a system to go after the terrorists before they establish a cell,” explained Yayla.

“If someone was involved in terrorism, I would send police officers to intervene by, for instance, speaking to family members to prevent further radicalisation. So my officers began to intervene with ISIS members as soon as we detected their activities.”

But the governor did not agree.

“He didn’t like what I was doing, so he took me out of counter-terrorism. Due to my seniority in the Turkish National Police, he couldn’t fire me. So instead he put me in charge of the Public Order and Investigations Department.”

Yayla remained committed to using his authority to crackdown on terrorists. He asked officers in his department to pursue a policy of stopping and arresting suspected terrorists moving around the city, and handing them over to counter-terrorism. Unsurprisingly, he said, “The governor did not like that idea either.”

In fact, Yayla complained:

“Most of the time the dispatch centre was urged not to send counter-terrorism, and even not to radio in, as radio was being recorded. Instead, Turkish counter terrorism officers would reach out to our officers through direct phone contact and tell them to just release the terrorists. ‘Why are you stopping them? Let them go’, they would say.”

Yayla said that as a consequence of this policy, ISIS was able to ramp up its presence in Turkey with complete impunity:

“Basically, the police were not allowed to stop ISIS inside the city.”

Among Yayla’s most shocking allegations is that the Turkish government has directly protected the leader of ISIS’ Turkish operations, Halis Bayancuk, also known as Abu Hanzala, who is the son of one of the founding fathers of the Turkish Hizbullah.

“My police sources confirm that Erdogan had in 2015 assigned Bayancuk 24/7 police protection,” said Yayla. “I still communicate with other police sources and chiefs. They routinely complain that the highest Turkish authorities are working with ISIS, and that their efforts to arrest ISIS members in Turkey are obstructed by the counter-terrorism department.”

Photographs of two ISIS members being arrested separately by Turkish police provided exclusively to INSURGE by Yayla. Neither of the arrestees are handcuffed.

Yayla describes several examples when his own officers would investigate suspected ISIS members without any support from their colleagues in counter-terrorism:

“ISIS members arriving in Turkey often shave their beards and cut their hair so that they can blend into society. Senior detectives would follow their movements from their arrival in Turkey to their activities in the city, collecting and sharing evidence on them with counter-terrorism. But they would receive no support from the counter-terrorism department. Instead, they would be told ‘Don’t stop them, it’s not your job.’ And to make matters worse, the police would then open investigations into these very officers for investigating the terrorists.”

Yayla said that the failed coup had provided Erdogan with a perfect opportunity to root out officers critical of these policies, on the pretext of targeting a Gulenist conspiracy: “Many of these officers simply can’t speak — if they speak they will be arrested.”

Logistical safe haven — blood for oil

Turkey, a key NATO member and purported ally of the West in the fight against ISIS, has now become an open safe haven for jihadists: “ISIS has a large logistical support base in Gaziantep. For example, all of its uniforms are tailored in Gaziantep, maybe over 60,000 of them over the last two years.”

This is not entirely surprising, given that Gazientep was previously the main logistical support base for TH, and later al-Qaeda in Turkey.

“There are dome like buildings in Gazientep where jihadists are living — both ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra [a former al-Qaeda affiliate rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham],” said Ahmet Yayla. “These are huge apartments filled with jihadists. Many of these jihadists don’t even bother to blend in. They retain their distinctive appearance, with their particular clothing style and long beards. And they go back and forth across the border freely.”

But Yayla’s astonishing revelations about the Turkish government’s support for ISIS did not end there. He also referred to firsthand accounts he had obtained from dozens of sensitive interviews with ISIS defectors who were hiding in Turkey. Some of these accounts are examined in Yayla’s new book with his academic colleague Speckhard, ISIS Defectors, as well as in their recent paper in the peer-reviewed journal, Perspectives on Terrorism.

Allegations that Erdogan’s son and son-in-law have been directly involved in ISIS oil smuggling operations have appeared in the Turkish press, but are fervently denied by the government.

Regardless of these claims, Yayla’s own sources among ISIS defectors confirmed the role of both Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq in facilitating ISIS oil sales.

“The main route to get the oil out of ISIS territory is through northern Iraq,” said Yayla. “ISIS oil is transported by truck and mixed in with northern Iraq oil. This is why the KRG and Erdogan are buddies.”

The ISIS oil network involved a combination of competing interests — including those of Bashar al-Assad, ISIS’ purported arch-enemy.

“When the refineries had problems, ISIS would reach out to Bashar, who would dispatch oil engineers to come in and sort out the problems. ISIS fighters would escort and protect Bashar’s engineers, allow them to fix the problems, then send them back safely to Bashar.”

Did this mean Bashar al-Assad was, indeed, sponsoring ISIS by buying its oil?

“Yes and no,” said Yayla. “Bashar was not directly in control of ISIS, but he needs to maintain a secure supply of oil, and ISIS needs to maintain its oil sales. It’s a relationship of convenience. A few defectors told me they were upset about this. ISIS’s official justification is that they trade with other states even if they are the enemy.”

ISIS were making so much money from the oil sales overall that they had to stop counting the money by currency, and instead began weighing it in kilos.

One former ISIS emir told Yayla:

“Some of the oil goes directly to Turkey, but mainly it goes to northern Iraq and gets mixed with the Iraqi oil.”

According to Yayla:

“He [the ISIS defector] knows that for both Turkey, and in the KRG, the ISIS tankers were being protected, they’re not stopped, they’re untouchable. Not just one tanker — tanker after tanker after tanker. Roads were blocked everywhere to keep out ISIS and other terrorist organisations. Yet, he and a few other ISIS sources told me that those trucks and tankers were able to pass through checkpoints without problems, without even being asked to stop. This proves simply that ISIS was under orders not to mess with the Turkish tankers, and vice versa.”

The Turkish government has shown no signs it is even marginally interested in investigating these issues. Multiple requests for comment were sent to the Turkish embassy in London regarding Yayla’s allegations, and the treatment of his son. No response was received.

NATO’s alliance with terror

I asked Yayla the big question.


Why would Turkey finance ISIS, especially when the terror group has in recent years not shied away from hitting targets inside Turkey?

Yayla speculates that political corruption at the highest levels of Erdogan’s government has eroded the national security of Turkish society.

“I think Erdogan wants to establish a new Turkish state — Salafi, Shi’a and political Islam, all amalgamated,” he said.

“Don’t be mistaken. For Erdogan, political Islam is merely a useful tool to consolidate his support base in Turkey. And it is now his main tool to use against all domestic opposition to his rule — in particular the Kurds, who are a potent fighting force against ISIS.”

Most perturbing of all is the deafening silence of NATO.

In response to allegations of Turkey’s state-sponsorship of ISIS, a NATO spokesman was unrepentant about Turkey’s continuing role within the US-led security alliance.

In a lengthy statement, the NATO official said:

“Turkey is the NATO ally most immediately exposed to the violence and instability in Syria and Iraq. All other allies help to protect Turkey with a range of measures, including the deployment of Patriot missile defence systems. The fight against ISIL demands a comprehensive and sustained effort, including to cut ISIL’s illegal funding and end the flow of foreign fighters. All NATO allies are contributing to the US-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. Turkey is making a crucial contribution, including by hosting several other NATO Allies at Incirlik airbase, and strengthening the security of its border with Syria. At our recent Summit in Warsaw, NATO decided that our AWACS aircraft will contribute to the Global Coalition’s air picture and radar coverage. We also agreed to step up our training of Iraqi officers, including inside Iraq. The Turkish Government has offered to help the training effort at facilities within Turkey.”

NATO, it seems, has no interest in investigating the systematic sponsorship of ISIS from within the very heart of the alliance.

Meanwhile, Ahmet Yayla is paying a high price for speaking out. Having detained his son on unsubstantiated terrorism charges, the Turkish government is now escalating its campaign against the former counter-terrorism chief by publicly labelling him a terrorist through state-controlled media.

On Wednesday, Yayla testified before the US Congressional Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats about mounting evidence that the failed coup was “staged” by elements of Erdogan’s own government. The following day, the Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency accused Yayla of being an “alleged member of the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO)” purportedly led by Fetullah Gulen.

But Yayla, who has personally briefed Erdogan himself in his role as Chief of Police, is not a Gulenist by any stretch of the imagination.

“Erdogan would label anyone as Gulenist if you are against him,” said Yayla. “I am not a Gulenist. I am just a regular practicing Muslim.”

Yayla’s real crime is simply his tenacity in continuing to fight terrorism, no matter who is responsible for it. His courage, though, is costing his family. And as NATO continues to protect Erdogan’s increasingly draconian regime, the so-called ‘war on ISIS’ grinds on with no end in sight.

Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is an award-winning 15-year investigative journalist, international security scholar, bestselling author, and film-maker.

He is the creator of INSURGEintelligence, a crowdfunded public interest investigative journalism project, ‘System Shift’ columnist at VICE, and a weekly columnist at Middle East Eye. He is Global Editor at The Canary. Previously, Nafeez wrote The Guardian’s ‘Earth insight’ blog.

His work has been published in The Guardian, VICE, Independent on Sunday, The Independent, The Scotsman, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, The New Statesman, Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, Raw Story, New Internationalist, Huffington Post UK, Al-Arabiya English, AlterNet, The Ecologist, and Asia Times, among other places.

Exclusive stories broken by Nafeez via INSURGEintelligence have been covered by USA Today, Global Post, The Guardian, The Independent, Washington Post, The Metro, The Week, News Corp’s news.com.au, Discovery News, Channel 4 News, Forbes, Columbia Journalism Review, Gigaom, FutureZone, among others.

In 2015, Nafeez won the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian story on the energy politics of the Ukraine crisis. The previous year he won another Project Censored Award, known popularly as the ‘Alternative Pulitzer’, for his Guardian article on climate-induced food crises and civil unrest.

In 2010, Nafeez won the Routledge-GCPS Essay Prize for his academic paper on the ‘Crisis of Civilisation’ published in the journal Global Change, Peace and Security. He also won the Premio Napoli (Naples Prize) in 2003, Italy’s most prestigious literary award created by decree of the President of the Republic.

Nafeez has twice been featured in the Evening Standard’s ‘Top 1,000’ list of most influential people in London, in 2014 and 2015.

Nafeez is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), and the scifi thriller novel ZERO POINT, among other books. His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest

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