Turkey and Qatar likely provided support to Syrian al-Qaeda group Jabhat al-Nusra, or the al-Nusra Front, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) concluded in 2016.
According to a classified DIA report, a copy of which was seen by Nordic Monitor, it was concluded that the al-Nusra Front “probably received logistical, financial and material assistance from the elements of the Turkish and Qatari governments.” The report, dated June 2, 2016, provided a detailed account of the status of major combatants in Syria with al-Nusra boasting as many as 10,400 fighters due to increased recruitment.
The DIA underlined that al-Nusra maintained a supply of equipment and a robust facilitation network to sustain supplies, ammunition and weapons flows. It drew attention to its cooperation with opposition groups and how it adapted to challenges to participate in key battles against the Syrian regime.
The agency described al-Nusra as “one of the most effective antiregime forces because of its persistence and ability to adapt to the changing operating environment.” It noted that al-Nusra regularly cooperated with other opposition groups, including ones that were party to the Cessation of Hostilities agreement. In February 2016 al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) agreed to a six-month truce in Aleppo and Idlib provinces, highlighting their willingness to cooperate at the tactical level, the report pointed out.
The report was prepared by DIA’s Middle East/Africa Center and Defense Combating Terrorism Center.
In contrast the fighting force of ISIS recorded an approximately 20 percent decrease because of airstrikes and battlefield losses. Still, ISIS was estimated to have between 5,200 to 10,400 fighters. ISIS continued to suffer from declining tax revenue and reduced access to the Turkish border, which has restricted ISIS’s access to resources.
A 2014 al-Qaeda investigation in Turkey had revealed how Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) enlisted veteran al-Qaeda figure Ibrahim Şen in connecting with al-Qaeda groups in Syria. Şen, a convicted al-Qaeda terrorist, was detained in Pakistan over al-Qaeda links and transferred to Guantanamo, where he was kept until 2005, before US officials decided to turn him over to Turkey. According to the Turkish investigation file, he had been working with MİT since the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011. Apparently due to political cover from the government and a secret contract with MİT, Şen was saved from legal troubles. He was arrested in January 2014 and indicted in October 2014 but let go at the first hearing of the trial in October 2014. He was again arrested in 2018.
The government dropped the 2014 investigation and sacked police chiefs, prosecutors and judges who were involved in the investigation, prosecution and trial of Şen and his associates. Wiretaps obtained by prosecutors under court order exposed Şen’s links to the Turkish intelligence agency. Investigators believed that Şen used several front NGOs including the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH) to conceal illegal shipments to jihadists in Syria. Three people identified by the police as partners of Şen in smuggling goods to Syria were Ömer Faruk Aksebzeci (who worked out of the IHH Kayseri branch); Recep Çamdalı (a member of the IHH in the Kayseri branch); and İbrahim Halil İlgi (who worked out of the Kilis IHH branch). The transcripts of wiretaps between Şen and these operatives showed how they planned to use ambulances to transport goods to jihadists when the governor prohibited pickup trucks from crossing into Syria.
Şen’s brother Abdulkadir was also listed as a suspect in the al-Qaeda case but was freed as well. He is known to be the author of books that led many young people in Turkey to radicalize.