With the political, military and economic capital it has poured into Somalia, Turkey’s Islamist government is pursuing a secret agenda to empower a jihadist network and radical Islamist groups in the Horn of Africa.
According to commentary by Sefer Turan, a chief advisor to the Turkish president, in a radical Islamist magazine in the ’90s, political Islamists in Turkey were endorsing armed jihadist groups in the African nation that has long been troubled by civil war, clan conflicts and competing Islamist and armed groups. Now the same mindset can be found in the leadership of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is rooted in political Islam and supports jihadist groups in countries like Syria and Libya.
Several articles authored by Turan about Somalia that were published in the now-shuttered Yeryüzü magazine shed light on how President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Islamist associates envision the future of Somalia. The magazine, published in Turkish, was secretly financed by the Iranian mullah regime to promote radical views among Turks at the time and faced a criminal investigation that led to the closing down of the publication. Several people associated with the magazine were later charged and convicted on terror charges.
Turan’s perspective for Somalia matters a great deal since he’s certainly no ordinary advisor. He has been exerting significant influence over shaping the strategy of Turkey’s ties to Muslim, Arab and African countries for years and enjoys close access to Erdoğan. He has the president’s ear and as an unofficial Arabic translator is privy to Erdoğan’s private conversations with Muslim and Arab figures.
In his articles, Turan wholeheartedly advocated al-Itihaad al-Islami (The Islamic Union, AIAI), a militant organization that was designated as a terrorist group by the US, the UK and New Zealand, and defended the organization’s armed combat using military aid from Iran. The AIAI’s goal was to establish an Islamist state, and some of the senior figures in the organization were linked to al-Qaeda. Although it was dissolved in 2001, some of them joined al-Shabab.
Turkish president’s chief advisor Sefer Turan’s article on Somalia, published in the December 1992-January 1993 issue:sefer_turan_somalia_yeryuzu_Dec_1992_January_1993
In an October 1992 article Turan floated extremist views, alleging that some orphans in Somalia were abducted by armed Jewish gangs and forcibly taken to Israel, while others were converted by Western Christian missionaries who came Somalia under the pretext of delivering humanitarian aid. Such talking points that were uttered in the 1990s are still being circulated among Turkish Islamists today, and they are an easy sell to the core Islamist support base for President Erdoğan in Turkey. He also defended Iran for arming the AIAI and rejected accusations that Iran was radicalizing Somali Muslims.
In a January 1993 article Turan criticized a United Nations peacekeeping operation and branded it as an imperialist occupation by the United States and its allies against a bloc led by Iran and Sudan. He praised the AIAI’s opposition to the UN operation in Somalia and cheered when the group announced it would fight with every means available against what it called an invasion. In the December 2012-January 2013 issue, he published a fiercely anti-American piece under the title “Rambo is in Somalia,” accusing the US of occupying the country under the pretense of providing aid.
Although the AIAI was long gone and its offshoots were either aligned with terrorist organizations like al-Shabab and al-Qaeda or had joined moderate Islamist groups, it was the Somali clan structure which cuts across all lines that the Erdoğan government tapped to empower jihadists and radical Islamist groups in the Horn of Africa when it started to show more interest in 2011. Erdoğan’s Islamists have had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) network in Somalia for decades, and it was easy to enlist current and former MB figures to advance the Turkish government’s cause in Somalia.
Sefer Turan’s article on Somalia, published in the October 1992 issue:sefer_turan_somalia_yeryuzu_Oct_1992
It was a calculated decision by Erdoğan to appoint Cemalettin Kani Torun, a staunchly Islamist doctor, as a non-career ambassador to Somalia in 2011. Torun networked with former AIAI figures and funneled millions of dollars to Erdoğan’s Islamist business associates while he was there, until 2014. He also secretly met with al-Shabab terrorist leaders and sold them arms, according to a whistleblower account that leaked inside government information on Twitter under the name of Fuat Avni in 2014.
With the help of Erdoğan in 2014, management of the Mogadishu harbor facilities was handed over to the Albayrak Group, a Turkish conglomerate accused of corrupt practices in Turkey and abroad. According to the Somalia Corruption Report from GAN Integrity, bribery is common when clearing goods through the Mogadishu port. The head of the Mogadishu Port Tax Authority, Ahmed Ali Samow, and nine other top officials were arrested for allegedly diverting duty collected from the busy port in 2018. The arrests attracted considerable public attention since the port is the highest revenue earner for the federal government of Somalia and is believed to be a hotbed of graft, with duty ending up in private pockets.
Sefer Turan’s article on Somalia published in the January 1993 issue:sefer_turan_somalia_yeryuzu_January_1993
Some of the funds from graft and kickbacks were believed to have been rerouted to militant groups in the country as well. Trade in counterfeit goods is widespread at Somalia’s borders and has also served as a source of financing for armed rebel groups such as al-Shabab.
The Turkish Embassy is fully supportive of the Albayrak Group and its lucrative projects in Somalia such as financing housing projects at the expense of Turkish taxpayers.
Another outfit that operates under the political and diplomatic cover of the Erdogan government is the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), an al-Qaeda-linked Turkish charity that was accused of arms smuggling to Syrian terrorist groups according to intelligence submitted to the United National Security Council by Russia. The IHH has been operating in Somalia for nearly 20 years, providing logistics and supplies to militant groups.
Nordic Monitor previously published a classified report by Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) that showed how the Erdoğan government hushed up a probe into hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid to al-Shabab. According to the MASAK report, the Turkish Foreign Ministry sent 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. Turkish authorities kept the probe into the Şen brothers quiet.