Iraqi Kurds claim they have captured senior Turkish intelligence officers

Cemîl BayikThe Turkish government has refused to comment on reports from Iraq, which suggest that Kurdish forces have captured at least two senior Turkish intelligence officers. News of the arrests first emerged in mid-August, when pro-Kurdish media in Turkey’s Anatolia region claimed that an armed Kurdish group in Iraq had captured two members of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Turkey’s principal intelligence agency.

According to the reports, the Turkish intelligence officers had used forged identity papers to travel from eastern Turkey to the northern Iraqi city of Erbil. From there, they went to Sulaimaniyah, a metropolitan center in Iraq’s Kurdish north. Allegedly, the Turkish officers traveled to Iraq in order to assassinate Cemîl Bayik, a co-founder and senior leader of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Founded in 1978, the PKK is a leftwing secessionist paramilitary organization that seeks an independent homeland for Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Iraq’s Sulaimaniyah region is controlled by another Kurdish armed group, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which has close relations with Iran. But a rival Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Democrat Party (KDP), which is supported by Turkey and opposes the PKK’s secessionist aims, also has a strong presence in the area. It is not known whether KDP forces were aware of —or even assisted— the Turkish intelligence officers in Sulaimaniyah.

Kurdish sources claim that the two Turkish intelligence officers were arrested by PUK forces. Notably, media reports suggest that one of arrestees serves as the MİT’s deputy undersecretary for foreign operations, while the other heads the MİT’s PKK desk. The PUK is now threatening to publish photographs of the two men, which would blow their cover. But there has been no comment on this story from Ankara, where Turkish government officials refuse to confirm or deny that the arrests happened or that the two men are indeed MİT employees. Some observers, however, note that the Turkish government shut down the PUK’s office in the Turkish capital on August 23, and expelled the organization’s representatives. The group has maintained an office in Ankara since 1991, so the Turkish government’s surprising move may signify that the media reports about the arrests of the two MİT officers are indeed accurate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 September 2017 | Permalink

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Analysis of the Islamic State’s ‘wedding attack’ in Gaziantep, Turkey

Gaziantep, TurkeySaturday’s suicide bombing, which killed over 50 and injured dozens at a wedding in Gaziantep, Turkey, was without doubt the work of the Islamic State. It was yet another attempt by the militant Sunni group to discourage the Kurds from confronting it in battle, by pointing to the deadly consequences. It was also fueled by the desire for vengeance against a population that has consistently resisted the Islamic State’s ideology. Additionally, if confirmed, the use of a child as a suicide bomber by the Islamic State may form a pattern of operational activity that can lead to broader conclusions about the current state of the organization.

It has become increasingly clear in the past two years that the armed Kurdish groups in northern Syria and Iraq, as well as Kurdish peshmerga units based in Turkey, are some of the most formidable opponents of militant Jihadists on the ground. By bombing soft targets inside Turkey, the Islamic State is sending a message to the Kurds that armed opposition on the ground will carry a heavy cost at home. Contrary to initial impressions, there was nothing special about the particular wedding ceremony that was targeted on Saturday. Any wedding would have been suitable for the Islamic State’s purpose. In fact, the randomness of the attack increases its shock value by demonstrating to the local population that any activity can be attacked, even if it does not involve notables. Additionally, the specific choice of a wedding magnifies the brutality of the attack, by targeting a young couple on what is typically the happiest day of their lives. The high concentration of children among the casualties may indicate that the bomber was given specific operational instructions to attack younger participants. The clear warning here is that the disruption will leave nothing untouched –including something as ‘off-limits’ as a couple on their wedding day, or groups of children– if the Kurds continue to fight the Islamic State.

Moreover, the Islamic State is trying to widen the already deep division between the Turkish state and the Kurds, by exposing the inability of the government in Ankara to protect its Kurdish population from attacks. The Kurds already resent Turkey’s ‘soft policy’ on the Islamic State. They and the rest of the world can see that Ankara has typically viewed the government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus as far more threatening than the continuing rise of Islamist fundamentalism. Since the failed July 15 coup, the Turkish state has begun to revise its soft stance on the Islamic State, but this comes too late to pacify the country’s infuriated Kurdish population. This latest attack will only intensify the deep anger felt by the Kurds against the Turkish state.

Initial reports indicate the possible use of a child or a teenager to carry out the Gaziantep bombing. These may or may not be accurate. They could easily be an attempt by the Kurds to further-incense international public opinion against the Islamic State. If the reports are accurate, they do not necessarily represent some sort of break from the traditional tactics of the Islamic State. According to the group’s war-fighting doctrine, there is no differentiation between men and children when it comes to what it sees as the defense of Sunni religious doctrine. Every Muslim, regardless of race, gender, or age, is required to engage in holy war. Indeed, the Islamic State has deployed children before, in warfare, executions and suicide bombings against both hard and soft targets. However, even though the use of a child to carry out the Gaziantep bombing is not in itself unique, or particularly important, it matters if it forms part of a broader pattern. If it is verified that ISIS is increasingly using children in suicide bombings, or in warfare, it may signify two things: first, that the organization is finding it difficult to recruit able-bodied men for missions. Second, that adult ISIS recruits are becoming scarcer, so the organization is trying to preserve them for decisive battles.

It may be, of course, that a child or younger teenager was selected in order to avoid security profiling by the Kurds. Still, the use of children in warfare or suicide missions can result in a large degree of unpredictability. Children may be relatively easy targets for recruiters, for the obvious reason that they are young and impressionable. Their reality can therefore be effectively altered by fantastical tales of the supernatural, which the Islamic State is very skilled at. However, children are not necessarily very dependable in war, or terrorism. They can be easily frightened, can change their mind at the last minute, and they do not stay calm under pressure. There are several recent examples of children or teenagers who were recruited for suicide operations but surrendered after changing their mind.

Ultimately, shocking massacres such as Saturday’s attack in Gaziantep cannot be prevented. They can only be limited through careful police and intelligence work. In the case of Turkey, however, this will be difficult. The country’s police, intelligence and military structures have been significantly weakened following the failed July 15 coup. Thousands of government officials, police officers, intelligence and military personnel have been fired, demoted or imprisoned. The state, which is becoming increasingly synonymous with the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP party, is too preoccupied with preserving its own stability to concentrate on combating the terrorist spillover from Syria.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 August 2016 | Permalink

British, Irish citizens who fought the Islamic State are released from prison

Joe AckermanTwo British and one Irish citizen, who fought with Kurdish units against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but were imprisoned in Iraqi Kurdistan while they were trying to return to Europe, have been freed. The three men are Joshua Molloy, from County Laois in the Republic of Ireland, Jac Holmes from Bournemouth, England, and Joe Ackerman (pictured), from the West Yorkshire city of Halifax in England’s northern region. All three joined Kurdish militias and saw action in Syria and Iraq in recent months.

Holmes, a former information technology manager, had no military experience when, in early 2015, aged 22, he entered Syria, aiming to join Kurdish forces. He soon enlisted in the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), a Kurdish group that serves as the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Syria. The Englishman from Bournemouth participated in several battles, but returned to the United Kingdom in June 2015, in order to recover from a bullet wound to the shoulder, which he suffered while in the battlefield. As soon as he was cured, he returned to Syria and rejoined the YPG. His compatriot, Joe Ackerman, is a former member of the British armed forces who traveled to Kurdistan last year and joined the YPG after entering Syria illegally. He too was eventually injured when his patrol was struck by a roadside bomb. The third man, Irishman Joshua Molloy, is also a former soldier, having served in the British Royal Irish Regiment, an infantry regiment of the British Army.

Many Western governments, including the British and Irish governments, maintain that their citizens who fight in the Syrian civil war may be prosecuted under counterterrorism legislation, even if they have fought against the Islamic State. But that has not stopped hundreds of Westerners from traveling to Syria and Iraq to join mostly Kurdish, Assyrian and other forces. Last December, intelNews reported on a study that identified over 108 American citizens who had enlisted in the various militias and armed groups fighting against the Islamic State. Nearly half of them had joined the YPG in Syria, while others had enlisted in the peshmerga forces of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Iraq, as well as in an assortment of Christian militias, including the Nineveh Plains Protection Units and the Dwekh Nawsha.

According to reports, Holmes, Ackerman and Molloy were on their way back to Europe and trying to cross from Syria into northern Iraq, when they were captured by Iraqi Kurdish government forces. They were jailed for over a week in the Kurdish city of Irbil while their captors tried to verify that they were not Islamic State volunteers. They were released on Sunday. In a statement issued last weekend, the British Foreign Office said it was helping its two citizens return to England as soon as possible.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 April 2016 | Permalink

Islamic State forces are engaging in chemical warfare, says German intelligence

Mustard gas chemical warfareGermany’s foreign intelligence agency says it has evidence that the Islamic State is making use of chemical weapons in northern Iraq, according to media reports. The German Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND, says its operatives in the Middle East were able to collect biological samples from Kurdish fighters engaged in battles against the Islamic State forces. The samples pointed to chemical poisoning that most likely came from sulfur mustards, more commonly known as mustard gas. The chemical, which is banned from use in warfare by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, causes skin irritation that gets progressively worse until sufferers develop debilitating blisters filled with yellow fluid.

Earlier this month there were unconfirmed reports that the Islamic State had used a type of poisonous gas against fighters in the Syrian town of Marea, a stronghold of the Free Syrian Army that is located just north of Aleppo. But no evidence was provided at that time to show that the poisonous substances were indeed chemical weapons. On Monday, however, the Director of the BND, Gerhard Schindler, was quoted in the German press as saying that his officers had gathered credible “information that the Islamic State used mustard gas in northern Iraq”. Schindler said that the information was derived from blood samples that were voluntarily provided by Kurdish fighters that suffered blisters during battles against Islamic State forces.

The BND has not yet answered the question of where the Islamic State managed to acquire its mustard gas supplies. Some allegedly believe that they came from old stockpiles produced during the regime of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, for use by the Iraqi armed forces. Others claim that Islamic State scientists produced the mustard gas from scratch using laboratories in the University of Mosul, a largely Kurdish city that has been occupied by Islamic State forces since the summer of 2014. Asked to comment on the BND report, a spokeswoman for the United States Department of Defense refused to “comment on intelligence or operational matters”, but added that, if confirmed, the use of chemical weapons “by any party […] is an abhorrent [and] reprehensible act”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 September 2015 | Permalink

News you may have missed #828

Abdullah ÖcalanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Chinese researcher charged with stealing US drug. Chinese cancer researcher Huajun Zhao, 42, who has been working in the United States since 2006, has been charged with stealing data and an experimental compound from the Medical College of Wisconsin. The federal complaint accuses Zhao of stealing the compound, C-25, which could potentially assist in killing cancer cells without damaging normal cells. An FBI investigation turned up evidence that Zhao hoped to claim credit in China for discovering C-25. He had already claimed on a research website that he had discovered an unnamed compound he hoped to take to China.
Turkish intelligence to ‘oversee PKK retreat’. Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency, MİT, will oversee the withdrawal of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, according to Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arınç. Last month, Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the armed Kurdish group that has battled Turkey for 30 years, proclaimed an immediate ceasefire in PKK’s conflict with the Turkish state, which has claimed about 35,000 lives. Speaking on Turkey’s state-run broadcaster, TRT, Arınç said no legislation would be introduced to facilitate the withdrawal, but “certainly MİT will oversee it; security forces will take part in it, too”, he added.
Analysis: Controversial Bush programs continue under Obama. During the George W. Bush years, two of the most controversial elements of what was then called the Global War on Terrorism were the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program and the creation of the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay. Guantanamo Bay and the RDI program are both back in the news now, each for their own unsavory reasons. The Pentagon is requesting nearly $200 million for Guantanamo Bay infrastructure upgrades, including $49 million for a new unit for ‘special’ prisoners. Meanwhile, participation in the CIA’s controversial RDI program has resulted —for at least one person— not in prosecution or professional sanctions, but rather in a promotion.

Turkey peace talks halted as Kurdish activists are assassinated in Paris

Sakine Cansiz with Abdullah Öcalan in 1995By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The future of peace talks between the Turkish government and the country’s Kurdish minority appeared uncertain yesterday, after three female Kurdish activists were found murdered execution-style in downtown Paris, France. The murders marked the first-ever killings in Europe of senior members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which operates as the primary political and paramilitary agent of Turkey’s Kurdish population. According to reports from France, a gun fitted with a silencer was used to kill two of the women in the back of the neck and the third one in the stomach.

One of the dead, Leyla Sönmez, was a Kurdish activist responsible for Kurdish diplomatic relations in France. Another, Fidan Doğan, who was also a French citizen, was the Paris representative of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), which operates as Kurdistan’s government-in-exile based in Brussels, Belgium. But the most prominent victim of the triple murder is Sakine Cansiz, co-founder of the PKK, who is described as a “legend” among party activists. Cansiz who was present at PKK’s founding in 1978, was imprisoned by the Turkish government in the 1980s and given political asylum in France in 1998. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #796

Richard FaddenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Iranian spy scandal sparks outrage in Turkey. After a nearly yearlong investigation into an alleged Iranian spy ring in Turkey, seven people were charged in early September with “providing information related to state security and establishing an [illegal] organization”. The charges against five Turkish citizens and two Iranian nationals followed a raid on the suspects’ residences and workplaces on August 29, in which videos and pictures of border security, documents, correspondence with Iranian intelligence and weapons were found, according to the investigation materials. Tehran denied any connections to those arrested, while officials in Ankara revealed more alleged evidence showing that Iran is providing support to the PKK.
►►British SIGINT agency ‘helps US drone attacks’. Britain’s former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, has said there is “pretty compelling” evidence that the British government’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, is passing information to the United States to help it locate targets for controversial drone attacks in Pakistan. Earlier this year David Anderson, the British state’s independent reviewer of terrorism-related legislation, warned that the British government faced “a raft of civil cases” over possible complicity in the CIA drone attacks.
►►Canada’s top spy dismisses call for human rights scrutiny. In a newly declassified memo, CSIS director Richard Fadden appears to dismiss the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s recommendation that national security agencies do more to ensure they are not taking part in racial profiling or other objectionable practices. “I am confident in the service’s existing human rights policies and procedures, as well as our accountability and review structures”, Fadden says in the January 2012 memo, which is addressed to Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. The memo —initially classified secret— was discovered by Mike Larsen, a criminology instructor in British Columbia, who obtained it under the Access to Information Act.