The idea of sending foreign fighters to Kashmir and Palestine against the backdrop of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was raised during a meeting in Turkey that was organized by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s secretive paramilitary group SADAT.
“Not only NATO but all the world powers, they said any volunteer, including Americans, you can go to Ukraine, you can fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the Ukrainian army, and they are called heroes. I endorse that. But my only point is: Are these volunteers going to be allowed to go to Palestine, to go to Kashmir?” said Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, a Kashmiri-born convicted felon who served time in US federal prison.
“Can we ask the world powers why don’t you feel that pain and suffering when it comes from the streets of Palestine or Kashmir?” he added.
Fai’s remarks were hailed by other participants in the meeting that was held by SADAT’s front organization, the Association of Justice Defenders Strategic Studies Center (ASSAM), on November 12, 2022. Fai’s US-based organization, the Kashmiri American Council (KAC), an outfit that is funded by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has long been a partner of SADAT and its affiliated organizations.
Mesut Hakkı Caşın, the Turkish president’s advisor on security and foreign policy, and Pakistani Senator Muhammad Talha Mahmood, the federal minister for states and frontier regions, were also among the attendees of the meeting.
This is not the first time Fai has appeared at SADAT events. He has been working closely with SADAT’s founder, retired general Adnan Tanrıverdi, who served as former chief military aide to the Turkish president and who still counsels Erdoğan, albeit unofficially, on military and security matters. Fai had travelled to Turkey and Europe to join discussions with SADAT officials in the past.
Raising the idea of deploying fighters to Kashmir at a SADAT meeting is particularly concerning given the fact that SADAT has facilitated the trafficking of fighters to Syria, provided arms and logistical supplies to jihadist groups around the world and has been involved in training Libyan Islamist factions. Its leader Tanrıverdi aims to transform Turkey’s secular system into a Shariah-based Islamist regime and dreams of setting up an Islamic army with the participation of Muslim countries.
Militant Turkish Islamist groups have always kept watch on Kashmir with an eye to sending combatants to fight against Indian army. Some of them were in fact killed in battles while fighting the Indians. Some of them, battle-hardened overseas, went to Bosnia, Chechnya , Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Pakistan to pursue jihadist causes and take up arms against what they called infidels. In recent years, many of these militants joined other jihadist groups that were aligned with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The most prominent Turkish jihadist who fought against the Indian army and was killed during the clashes was a man named Osman Öztürk. He went to Kashmir on June 4, 1997 and died on July 11, 1997 while fighting for Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, a radical and separatist organization that is listed as a terrorist entity by the European Union, India, Canada and the US.
Öztürk has become a poster boy for Turkish jihadists who hail him as hero and a great martyr. He was even featured on calendars that were sent all over the world including to radical outfits in the Kashmir region for indoctrination and recruitment campaigns for new aspirants. Nordic Monitor obtained photographs from an orphanage run by the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH) on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. The photos, believed to be taken some time in February 2014, show a man telling the children gathered around him about the people featured in the calendar, which was posted on the walls of the orphanage.
The IHH is a radical outfit that is linked to jihadist groups including al-Qaeda and was the subject of a counterterrorism probe in January 2014 in Turkey. It was saved by Turkish President Erdoğan, who intervened in the case. The outfit works closely with Turkish intelligence agency MIT, led by Erdoğan confidant Hakan Fidan, an Islamist figure, and was described as a global logistic supplier for jihadist groups by terrorism experts.
Nordic Monitor previously published a report documenting how the IHH networked with Indian extremist and militant Islamist organization the Popular Front of India (PFI) as part of the Turkish government’s outreach to Muslim communities in the Southeast Asia region.
The campaign against India by Turkish jihadists risks putting Indian diplomats and Indian nationals in Turkey in danger. In fact there is a precedent for this that led to violence against the Indian embassy in the past. A Turkish militant group that was involved in murders, bombings and kidnappings planted a bomb on a vehicle owned by an Indian embassy employee in Ankara in 1992 over Kashmir.
The incident took place on December 12, 1992 when three members of the Tevhid Selam terrorist group, a proxy group that is run by Iran’s Quds Force, planted a bomb with a timer on a car operated by Indian diplomat Yash Paul Kumar in Ankara. The vehicle was damaged when the bomb exploded, but Kumar escaped with no injuries. During police interrogation, Ferhan Özmen, one of the three militants who planned and executed the bombing, said the attack was intended to send a message to India over events in Kashmir. Özmen was tried, convicted and sent to prison at the time.
Court records that show how Turkish jihadists plotted to kill an Indian diplomat in Ankara:confession_bombing_Indian_diplomat_car
However, most members of the Tevhid Selam terrorist group were released from prison after Erdoğan came to power in Turkey. A campaign is currently underway to secure the release of the few including Özman who are still serving time. A fresh probe into the network, launched in 2011 by a public prosecutor, was hushed up by Erdoğan government in February 2014 before the case went to trial. Many suspects in the new probe were convicted felons from the 1990s.
A few of them who were the subjects of a counterterrorism investigation turned out to be close aides of President Erdoğan such as Sefer Turan, the chief advisor to Erdoğan on Turkey’s relations with Middle East and North Africa countries, and Mustafa Varank, a former aide and now the minister for industry and technology.
It is clear that with Erdoğan’s political protection, Turkish jihadists feel emboldened. With tens of thousands of purges in the judiciary and police force including veteran officers who had investigated such groups in the past out of the picture, Turkish jihadists act with impunity and face no real crackdown in the criminal justice system, which is now designed to go after political opponents, critical journalists and human rights defenders.
As a result of this permissive environment, SADAT has been organizing meetings during which sending volunteers to fight overseas including to the Kashmir region are freely discussed and entertained.