A classified report by Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), obtained by Nordic Monitor, reveals how the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hushed up a probe into hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid to the al-Shabab terrorist organization in Somalia.
The report, stamped “secret,” provides further details in a scandal that was originally exposed by Nordic Monitor in January 2019 and highlights the role of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in empowering the al-Qaeda and al-Shabab terror groups.
According to the MASAK report, the Turkish Foreign Ministry sent a letter no.48378 to MASAK on March 22, 2013, attaching a request for information sent by the US Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, led by Under Secretary David S. Cohen at the time. The intelligence picked up by the Americans indicated that Turkish national İbrahim Şen and his brother Abdulkadir Şen were involved in delivering $600,000 to al-Shabab between September and December 2012.
The intelligence was credible enough for the Americans to make use of official inter-agency channels between the two countries. Turkey’s MASAK and the US Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence are the key agencies and points of contact in anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental organization to develop policies to combat money laundering and terrorism financing.
Ibrahim Şen, an 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. He was indicted in 2008 on al-Qaeda charges and convicted. In 2011, when the Syrian crisis started, the Turkish intelligence agency recruited him as an operative to mobilize jihadists in Syria. MASAK responded to the US Treasury request in a secret letter on August 1, 2013 that was sent to the Turkish Foreign Ministry for transmission to the US authorities.
While the exchange of information was taking place between Turkish and US authorities, the prosecutor’s office out of Turkey’s eastern province of Van near the Iranian border was running its own separate terrorism investigation into the Şen brothers and other suspects. In January 2014 the prosecutor secured warrants to detain both brothers and other al-Qaeda suspects, including Osman Nuri Gülaçar, a senior figure in the provincial establishment of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The investigation file exposed how MIT was using al-Qaeda’s Şen brothers to move supplies and fighters to Syria in order to topple the Bashar al-Assad government.
Panicked over the possible fallout, the Erdoğan government intervened in the investigation, hushed up the probe and secured the release of all 25 suspects who were detained in a nationwide sweep. What is more, the Erdoğan government immediately sacked two prominent counterterrorism chiefs, Serdar Bayraktutan and Devlet Çıngı, who had uncovered al-Qaeda cells in six provinces. In April 2014 Mürsel Ali Kaplan, the head of MASAK, was also removed and assigned to a low-profile position in a clear sign that the Erdoğan government would not tolerate any dirty laundry being aired, especially when it came to exposing al-Qaeda buddies. Gülaçar was even nominated to run for a seat in parliament on the AKP ticket two years later and became a lawmaker with parliamentary immunity from criminal prosecution.
On June 4, 2014 MASAK received another classified communication from the Turkish Foreign Ministry which stated that foreign diplomats who work on counterterrorism in the British and French embassies had asked for more information about the Şen brothers as they said their governments were preparing to file a note to submit to the UN Security Council with respect to the Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee. The diplomats said the radical fighters who went to Syria to fight with jihadists presented a threat to the security of their countries upon their return. MASAK responded to the requests in a letter dated June 5, 2014.
The younger Şen brother, Abdulkadir, again appeared on the radar of Turkish investigators when a radicalized Turkish police officer assassinated Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in the Turkish capital on December 19, 2016. The evidence in the case file indicated that Abdulkadir personally met with the killer in Istanbul after the killer read his book on Syria and wanted to meet the author. Through this case file, it was revealed what Turkish authorities actually did with respect to the request from the US Treasury.
In assessment report no. 2016.DR.13-80/2 finalized on July 29, 2016, MASAK concluded that there was no record of any financial transactions in the banking system that confirmed the Şen brothers had sent $600,000 to al-Shabab. Commenting on MASAK’s conclusion, several security specialists who were in a position to know how such investigations are carried out told Nordic Monitor that the report was nothing but an attempt at a coverup. Speaking anonymously for security concerns, the specialists underlined that al-Qaeda would not transfer such an amount of cash through regular banking or financial mechanisms, but rather by other means that are not easy to detect. They said MASAK had the ability to trace the money but appears to have been instructed not to do so.
Most veteran MASAK investigators were removed from their positions in the aftermath of corruption investigations in December 2013 that incriminated Erdoğan and his associates in Iran sanction busting schemes which used Turkish banks to launder Iranian money. The government filled the vacancies with political operatives and loyalists who had no interest in pursuing radical jihadist groups in Turkey. In fact, the government in March 2014 ordered that all al-Qaeda investigations be dropped and surveillance and wiretapping activities pursued by judicial and law enforcement agencies suspended. Instead, law enforcement and the criminal justice system were turned into a tool for persecuting Erdoğan’s critics and opponents as well as dissidents, especially members of the Gülen movement. Small wonder that President Erdoğan included MASAK in the portfolio of his son-in-law Berat Albayrak, the minister of finance and treasury.
It is highly unlikely that Ibrahim Şen would have used regular channels to send money to al-Shabab. According to MASAK records, he had been on a watchlist since 2008 under a program called KİHBİ by the Directorate for Smuggling, Intelligence, Operations and Information Collection (Kaçakçılık İstihbarat, Harekat ve Bilgi Toplama Dairesi Başkanlığının). Any major funding movement would trigger red flags in the traditional banking system, which was being closely monitored by MASAK, the central bank and banking regulatory body BDDK. Yet MASAK’s 2016 assessment report claimed that they could not investigate the Şen brothers on suspicion of financing terrorism.
Parts of the secret Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) report on Turkish al-Qaeda militants İbrahim Şen and Abdulkadir Şen:MASAK_Sen_Brothers_report
In the meantime, the Erdoğan government also took care of terrorism investigations into the elder brother, Ibrahim Şen, with the Istanbul prosecutor’s office deciding to drop probe no.2014/41241. In indictments filed against him on terrorism and document forgery charges, Ibrahim Şen was not only listed as a suspect but also as a victim, meaning that the government turned the tables and allowed him to file bogus charges against the prosecutors and police chief who had investigated him in the past.
The banking records show that Abdulkadir Şen had or still has multiple bank accounts with state banks Vakıf, Ziraat, Halk and private lenders Akbank, Yapı Kredi, İşbank, Denizbank, Garanti, Türkiye Finans and Kuveyt Türk. The total amount of financial transactions in these accounts between 2011 and 2016 was some 466,000 Turkish lira. It is highly likely that Abdulkadir Şen used other means to move the funds. He had financial transactions with two members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, listed as a terrorist organization in Turkey, and his brother Seyfullah Şen, who has been monitored by KİHBİ since 2008 over al-Qaeda links.
Given the fact that even the Erdoğan government does not use banks to send funds to the Somali government under grant and loan schemes but rather transports bags of cash on Turkish Airlines flights bound for Mogadishu, it would be absurd to think that terrorism financiers would use banks to wire funds to al-Shabab.
Like his two brothers, Seyfullah Şen, another son in the large family, had also multiple investigations launched into him on charges of membership in al-Qaeda, document forgery, counterfeiting, tender rigging and organized crime involvement. A 2013 investigation in Van province on two counts was dropped in 2015. He was listed as a victim in all the cases when he was in fact prosecuted as a suspect, meaning that the government helped him build a case against investigators who had found out about the illegal activities in which he was involved.
Despite the fact that Abdulkadir Şen had faced multiple investigations on terrorism and other charges, he was employed by Muş Alpaslan Üniversitesi, a state university, and received a salary of 5,498 Turkish lira as a research assistant in December 2016, according to the MASAK report. His career as a civil servant started on September 19, 2010. He has had a 49 percent share in a media, publishing and distribution and company called Dinamik Medya Basın Yayın Dağıtım Organizasyon, Sanayi Ticaret Ltd. Şti. since January 7, 2013. His partner is Murat Özer.
The indictment in the 2016 assassination of Russian Ambassador Karlov revealed that Abdulkadir Şen had met the envoy’s killer in person and that the gunman had bought his book on Syria, which helped him become imbued with jihadist ideology. Yet Turkish prosecutor Adem Akıncı brushed aside the connection of the Turkish al-Qaeda network to the assassin and discounted significant evidence in the case file about how al-Qaeda operatives helped steer the assassin into killing the Russian envoy in order to exact revenge for an intensified Russian aerial campaign against jihadist groups in Syria at the time. Abdulkadir Şen is the author of books that led many young people in Turkey to radicalize.
Erdoğan has shown great interest in Somalia since 2011 and ordered the construction of Turkey’s largest embassy compound in Mogadishu while also building a military training center and military school. His associates secured the operating rights of both the airport and port facilities. He had appointed Cemalettin Kani Torun, a staunchly Islamist doctor, as a non-career ambassador to Mogadishu in 2011. According to Turkish government insider Fuat Avni, Kani funneled millions of dollars to Erdoğan’s business associates while he was there, until 2014. He also secretly met with al-Shabab terrorist leaders and sold them arms.