The Hungarian Islamic Community (HIC), Hungary’s oldest Muslim group, established in 1990, and a Turkish intelligence-linked jihadist charity have agreed to conduct joint projects in Hungary.
According to a press release by the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), Zoltán Bolek, head of the HIC, paid a visit to the charity’s headquarters in Istanbul.
On July 9, 2020 Bolek met with Osman Atalay, a member of IHH board of trustees, to discuss the “situation of Muslims in Hungary,” and “projects carried out by IHH in the region.”
Representatives of the organizations discussed promoting a partnership in Hungary and agreed on developing joint projects focusing on the needs of Hungarian Muslims. Bolek has close links to the IHH and has met regularly with its representatives. In 2018, he hosted Atalay at his office in Budapest.
Turkish agencies such as the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA); the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (Yurtdışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar Başkanlığı, or YTB) diaspora agency; the the Yunus Emre Institute, the government’s cultural arm abroad; and indoctrination and proselytizing entity the Maarif Foundation are the backbones of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government’s promotion of religious and nationalist propaganda in the region. The IHH press release revealed how pro-government charities have built partnerships with organizations representing local communities.
The IHH functions as the long arm of Turkey’s Islamist ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is led by President Erdoğan, who effectively considers himself the leader of all Muslims worldwide. It was accused of smuggling arms to al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria in January 2014 in a counterterrorism investigation conducted by a prosecutor in Turkey’s eastern province of Van.
The investigation into a Turkish al-Qaeda cell found that İbrahim Şen, a top al-Qaeda operative who was detained in Pakistan and jailed at Guantanamo until 2005 before he was turned over to Turkey, his brother Abdurrahman Şen and others were sending arms, supplies and funds to al-Qaeda groups in Syria with the help of Turkey’s intelligence service.
The Hungarian Islamic Community was set up in 1990 and officially recognized by the Hungarian government as a religious organization in February 2012.
The HIC and the Church of Muslims of Hungary are the two officially recognized Islamic religious organizations in the country. While members of the HIC are mainly converted Hungarians, the Church of Muslims of Hungary comprises predominantly foreign-born Muslims. According to Hungarian regulations, legally recognized religious organizations are referred as “Churches” and enjoy the legal status of a church. Thus, Muslim associations were able to receive financial contributions from Hungarian authorities.
According to the Budapest Beacon, Bolek was previously investigated by the National Tax and Customs Administration (NAV) in Hungary. Bolek and HIC members “asked millions in bribes in exchange for their backing of [local] social institutes,” Hungarian media claimed.
The IHH had long been flagged by Russia as an organization that smuggled arms to jihadist groups in Syria, according to intelligence documents submitted to the UN Security Council on Feb. 10, 2016. Russian intelligence documents even furnished the license plate numbers of trucks dispatched by the IHH loaded with arms and supplies bound for al-Qaeda-affiliated groups including the Nusra Front.
The leaked emails of Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Erdoğan and former finance and treasury minister, also implicated the IHH in arming Libyan factions. The secret document found in leaked emails tells the story of how the owner of a bankrupt shipping and container company asked for compensation from the Turkish government for damage his ship sustained while transporting arms between Libyan ports at the order of Turkish authorities in 2011. The document revealed all the details of a Turkish government-approved arms shipment to rebels in a ship contracted by the IHH.
The Erdoğan government helped save the IHH from legal troubles in Turkey while mobilizing resources and diplomatic clout to back the IHH in global operations.