A 48-year-old Turkish man wanted for arrest on charges of terrorism over links to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has continued to use Turkey’s banking services, according to confidential files obtained by Nordic Monitor.
An arrest warrant was issued in 2013 for Ahmet Gürler, a resident of Turkey’s conservative province of Konya, by the Konya 2nd High Criminal Court. He also faced two separate terrorism cases filed against him by public prosecutors in 2014 and 2015. In March 2018 the police also asked the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) to look into his bank accounts and assets, saying he was a member of the ISIS terrorist group.
Yet despite the fact that he was the subject of a MASAK inquiry and sought on several arrest warrants, the records show he was able to tap the Turkish financial system, opening bank and credit card accounts with Turkish private lender Denizbank, which was formerly owned by Russian Sberbank and has been managed by Emirates NBD since 2019.
Although he was flagged as a dangerous jihadist in 2013 and has faced criminal cases since then, it took eight years before President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a government decree on December 24, 2021 that ordered a freeze of his assets.
The banking records in his MASAK file show that Gürler had maintained 16 bank accounts in various banks including state lenders. He managed to open five credit card and checking accounts in November 2018, seven months after police asked MASAK to look into his finances.
Bank accounts owned by ISIS militant Ahmet Gürler:Ahmet_Gurler_Bank_accounts_Redacted
Both ISIS and al-Qaeda have at one time or another managed to access the Turkish financial system and take advantage of Turkish banks, thanks to the permissive environment created by the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which is led by President Erdoğan.
The Erdoğan government, which controls MASAK, has proven to be lenient and forgiving when it comes to punishing dangerous jihadists from al-Qaeda and ISIS. It kept delaying implementing many recommendations made by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to align Turkish laws and regulations with the global rules in preventing financing of terrorism and money laundering activities.
As a result, in October 2021 Turkey was placed under surveillance by global money-laundering watchdog FATF for shortcomings in combatting money laundering and terrorism financing. FATF’s listing of Turkey on its grey list of countries means the Erdoğan government has strategic deficiencies in combatting money laundering and terrorist financing.
A US Treasury report on programs to combat terrorist financing and activities to disrupt ISIS financing released on January 4, 2021 indicated that the terrorist group continues to rely on “logistical hubs” inside Turkey for its finances.
“ISIS continued to use money services businesses, including hawalas, to move funds in and out of Iraq and Syria, often relying on logistical hubs in Turkey and in other financial centers,” the US Treasury report said.
In recent years many Individuals and entities based in Turkey have been designated as financial facilitators for ISIS by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The designations confirmed a pattern in which ISIS has been using the financial system in Turkey to fund its network while the authorities shy away from clamping down on ISIS cells.
Turkey was also accused by UN investigators of being an important hub in raising funds for ISIS-affiliated groups across the region.