Two Turkish nationals and their company, recently sanctioned by the US Treasury for aiding and abetting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and identified in 2016 by Russia at the UN Security Council as operatives of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), turned out to be connected to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which is led by Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Nordic Monitor’s review of postings on Twitter and Facebook reveals that a senior leader of Erdoğan’s party met with the managers of the sanctioned firm in the border province of Şanlıurfa, where ISIS cells have been known to be active for years. In the multiple postings, the AKP provincial chairman in Şanlıurfa, Bayattin Yıldız, was seen visiting and meeting with the owners of the ACL export-import firm, an entity that has been designated under sanctions by the US government for providing logistical supplies to ISIS.
This is not surprising given the fact that Russia had already identified the two US-designated Turkish individuals as ISIS suppliers long before and connected them to Turkey’s notorious MIT, led by Erdoğan confidant Hakan Fidan, another Islamist figure. “The main supplier of weapons and military equipment to ISIL fighters is Turkey, which is doing so through non-governmental organizations. Work in this area is overseen by the National Intelligence Organization of Turkey. Transportation mainly involves vehicles, including as part of humanitarian aid convoys,” Russia’s then-UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told members of the Security Council in a letter.
Although the US Treasury designation on November 18, 2019 only listed 30-year old İsmail Bayaltun (Turkish identity No: 43867949044) and his brother Ahmet Bayaltun as the individuals who provided support to ISIS fighters in Syria through ACL İthalat İhracat, Nordic Monitor’s review of family business activities show multiple members of the family have been active in commercial activities linked to ACL not only in the border province but also in Istanbul’s Tahtakale business district, where smuggled goods, especially electronics, were widely traded.
According to official trade registry data, İsmail Bayaltun filed the papers to establish ACL İthalat İhracat, an import-export company, on March 29, 2011 in Şanlıurfa. Registration No.11586 was assigned to the company under his name. The company’s address was declared as Dünya İş Merkezi, 2.Kat No: 96 in the same city. On December 5, 2018 he changed the company’s address to Yusufpaşa Mahallesi, 886 Sokak No:31/1 Eyyübiye, Şanlıurfa. On July 5, 2019 İsmail Bayaltun filed a form with the trade registration office declaring that he had turned the company over to İsmail Soylu and that the firm’s name was changed to İsmail Soylu ACL İthalat İhracat. The change appears to have been merely cosmetic.
No matter who was listed on the official papers, the company is really run by the Bayaltun family, which is headed by Hacı Halil Bayaltun. Other members of the family were identified as Harun, Mustafa, Raşit, Ali and more, all carrying the family name of Bayaltun. The general manager, who travels abroad, especially to Hong Kong, to procure electronic and computer parts, is Mustafa Bayaltun, according to travel photos shared by him on Facebook. Mustafa Bayaltun travels between Istanbul and Şanlıurfa to manage the business when he is not abroad and is closely connected to Erdoğan’s governing party.
According to the US Treasury announcement, Ahmet Bayaltun has materially assisted, sponsored or provided financial, material or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, ISIS. As of early 2017, he was identified as an ISIS procurement agent, although Russia had named him as such a year earlier.
Yıldız, Erdoğan’s ruling party provincial representative in Şanlıurfa, even visited Mustafa Bayaltun in his Istanbul office on June 23, 2019 in a bid to secure support for the AKP’s Istanbul mayoral candidate, Binali Yıldırım, a former prime minister and parliament speaker. Yıldız also visited him and Halil Bayaltun on November 26, 2019, three days before the US Treasury designated the company under its sanctions regime.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin’s letter to the UNSC on March 18, 2016:bayaltun
In a letter submitted to the UNSC on March 18, 2016 Russian Ambassador Churkin said, concerning İsmail Bayaltun and Ahmet Bayaltun: “The bulk of the chemical components are purchased in the south-eastern provinces of Turkey (Mersin, Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa) with the assistance of local companies. In particular, one company acting as an intermediary is Tevhid Bilişim Merkezi (city of Şanlıurfa, Alcak district, Bağdat trading centre, office 1). The owners of the company, Ismail and Ahmet Bayaltun, acquire products manufactured in enterprises from the “Mersin free economic zone” (city of Mersin) and ensure that the cargo is then dispatched to the fighters. In addition, the company Tsitrkimya (Istanbul, owner Zaur Guliyev) supplies aluminium powder directly to ISIL.”
According to the registry data, Tevhid Bilişim was established by Ahmet Bayaltun on June 27, 2013, not surprisingly in the same neighborhood in which ACL was located (Yusufpaşa Mahallesi, Bagdat Pasaji 1. Kat No:56, Şanlıurfa). The company’s operations were described as the sale of mobile phones and accessories, similar to ACL. Perhaps under pressure from his handlers at the intelligence agency after the Russians outed the firm and with the Americans close on his heels, Bayaltun filed a notification on October 21, 2019 declaring that the Tevhid firm had ceased its activities. The request for dissolution was approved three days later by the authorities.
Tevhid Bilişim’s trade registry data:tevhid_bilisim
İsmail Bayaltun had already been detained on July 10, 2015 in what the Erdoğan government pretended was a crackdown on ISIS, but he was quickly released just like many other ISIS detainees. He was provided political cover for his activities linked to the intelligence agency. In fact the Bayaltun family enterprise had been involved in providing supplies to ISIS, in particular when the Syrian town of Tal Abyad was under the control of the terrorist group. When ISIS left the town following an offensive launched by the US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG) in June 2015, an examination of a stockpile left behind in the former ISIS territory turned up labels indicating that the packages were sent from Turkey and bore the name of Ahmet Bayaltun. Journalists from Turkish TV network Habertürk even reported that they had seen these labels with Bayaltun’s name on them when they were covering post-ISIS developments in Tal Abyad.
The family was alleged to have been involved in shipping aluminium powder, which is used to create a stronger blast in explosives. According to Russia’s findings, Turkey had shipped some half a million dollars worth of aluminum powder to ISIS by March 2016. “Total supplies to terrorists through Turkey were as follows in 2015: 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate (worth approximately US$ 788 ,700); 456 tons of potassium nitrate ($468,700); 75 tons of aluminium powder ($496,500); sodium nitrate ($19,400); glycerine ($102,500); and nitric acid ($34,000),” the Russian ambassador explained in the letter to the UN.
Under pressure from both the Americans and the Russians, Turkey was eventually forced to take action, albeit limited, to convince the international community that it had been cracking down on ISIS activities in Turkey. On June 25, 2015 three trucks with a load of 144 tons aluminum power were reportedly seized by Turkish authorities while en route to Syria. The seller’s name on the bill of lading was Ahmet Bayaltun, and the origin of the shipment was China. The shipment was reportedly seized and an administrative investigation launched, but it is not clear what happened with the probe or the seized trucks. It is more than likely that the case was hushed up. Turkish authorities made no announcement on the outcome of the probe with regard to the shipment.
Counterterrorism designations by the US Department of Treasury:Counter Terrorism Designations
The YPG’s advance near Turkish border at the expense of ISIS was a game changer for the Erdoğan government. When the conflict in Syria escalated, threatening the safety of Turkish truck drivers, Turkey’s Trade and Customs Ministry prohibited trucks from crossing into Syria, but in a decision issued on November 15, 2013 the government allowed the trucks to go through customs gates at three locations — Cilvegözü, Öncüpınar and Akçakale — on the Syrian border as long as Syrian truckers were used in the unloading and transport on the Syrian side. Therefore, ISIS continued to procure supplies from Turkey using the customs gates where it picked up trailers with Syrian tractors that hauled Turkish trailers from the border gate.
The open-door policy at the customs gate was changed, at least on paper, when in 2015 the Americans put greater pressure on Turkey to control its Syrian border in order to cut off supplies to ISIS and other jihadist groups. Furthermore, Turkey had a new incentive to do so when the YPG took over Tal Abyad, prompting Turkish authorities to shut down the gate for shipments shortly afterwards. The Trade and Customs Ministry decided to ban the export of aluminum to Syria on July 1, 2015, citing an intelligence note it received from MIT that showed the shipments were in fact coordinated by MIT. The illegal shipments continued through other crossing points according to the intelligence provided to the UNSC by Russia in 2016.
In a second letter submitted to the UNSC on May 17, 2016, Russian Ambassador Churkin further informed the UN that ISIS acquired items to manufacture improvised explosive devices from Turkey with the help of Turkish intelligence agency MIT. It stated that the basic chemical components of explosives seized in the region of Tikrit (Iraq) and in Kobani (Syria), with subsequent identification of the manufacturers and review of the conditions for selling such components to other countries, indicate that they were either manufactured in Turkey or delivered to that country without the right of re-export.
The document identified Turkish firms Gultas Kimya, Marikem Kimyevi ve Endustriyel Urunler, Metkim, EKM Gubre and Diversey Kimya as intermediaries. “These companies have delivered to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) aluminium powder, ammonium nitrate, pelletized carbamide and hydrogen peroxide produced by various Turkish and foreign companies. In this context, there has been a remarkable seven-fold increase in the volume of deliveries from Turkey to Syria of ammonium nitrate (at a time when agriculture in the Syrian Arab Republic is in decline), which is used by terrorists in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices,” the letter said.
Russia claimed that “the Turkish authorities are deliberately involved in ISIL activity, as they are providing access to components for improvised explosive devices that are being widely used to commit terrorist acts.”
Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin’s letter to the UNSC on May 17, 2016:N1614177