A secret wiretap obtained by Nordic Monitor reveals how Turkey’s spy chief, İbrahim Kalın, contemplated a decades-long plan to raise a political Islamist generation on the African continent, using Turkish government influence and affiliated Islamist groups.
The wiretap, secured by a court order as part of an investigation into an organized crime network in which Kalın was one of the suspects, details a confidential conversation between Kalın and the late businessman Abdullah Tivnikli, a leading Islamist figure.
The communication, intercepted on January 14, 2013 at 13:08 hours and later incorporated into a criminal case, showed Kalın briefing the businessman on then-prime minister and now president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visits to Gabon, Niger and Senegal as part of an Africa tour in January 2013. Kalın said he saw the schools as strategic assets that would be developed for the next 20 to 30 years.
During his time in Africa, Erdogan attended programs organized by Islamist schools run by the Aziz Mahmut Hudayi Foundation, a Turkish entity closely aligned with the Erdogan government. Tivnikli, who passed away in November 2018, was one of the founders of the organization. He was seeking a briefing on the phone about the visits to schools linked to Hudayi.
“It was quite interesting that he [Erdogan] visited only our schools,” Tivnikli told Kalın. “We have just started. For instance, I told [foundation staff] in Ghana that there are around 10,000 [students], like [MTTB] youths. … You should act,” Tivnikli said. “Good [projects] are being carried out, and more will be, Inshallah,” Kalın responded.
Wiretap that features the phone conversation of İbrahim Kalın with a known Islamist figure:Ibraim_Kalin_wiretap_Tivnikli
The National Turkish Students Union (Millî Türk Talebe Birliği, MTTB), which promotes an Islamic state in Turkey, has played an important role in Turkey in the political education of Islamist youth, including the founders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), among them Erdogan, 11th president Abdullah Gül and former speaker of the parliament İsmail Kahraman. According to his official biography, President Erdogan was actively involved with the MTTB during his high school and university years.
Kalın was deputy undersecretary of the Office of the Prime Ministry and chief foreign policy adviser to Erdogan at the time of the Africa tour. He later moved to Erdogan’s palace as spokesperson and chief advisor before becoming head of Turkey’s notorious intelligence organization MIT earlier this month.
In the wiretapped conversation Kalın and Tivnikli discuss seeking the support of African leaders during the second Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit in order to build new schools in their countries. The summit, which was scheduled for 2013 in Turkey, was postponed, and Erdogan and African leaders finally met in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, November 19-21, 2014. A declaration and 2015-2019 Joint Implementation Plan were adopted at the summit.
“That is great, Brother. We should discuss those later. The Turkey-Africa [Partnership] Summit will be held here [in Turkey]. We will host all the African leaders,” Kalın told Tivnikli. “Sure. All of them are asking for money [to facilitate the founding of schools in their countries],” stated Tivnikli. “Brother, you should give [money] since you will profit from [the schools],” said Kalın.
The Turkish government not only uses Islamist groups to expand its reach and influence on the African continent but also established an official government foundation called Maarif by a special law in 2014 and handed over its management to known Islamists who harbor jihadist views. Every year the foundation receives huge sums of money from the central government budget. Maarif runs schools in 26 African countries and has plans to expand it to all 54 in the future.
The Erdogan government also tried to tap into the network of schools owned and operated by the Gülen movement, a group that is opposed to the government, but US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, said the movement rejected the government offer. Then Erdogan turned against the movement, established Maarif and took over some Gülen-linked schools in African countries using bribes, political influence and promises of trade, investment and arms sales.
Today Maarif operates in 67 countries and runs 446 schools and 36 dormitories with a student population of 50,699. In addition to this, Turkish government-backed Islamist groups also operate hundreds of their own schools on the continent to help promote the political Islamist ideology of the Erdogan government. In every election period, African students have been featured in Erdogan government campaigns, portraying Erdogan as a sort of caliph revered by many in Africa.
With a new position as head of the intelligence agency with abundant funding and countless resources at his disposal, Kalın is expected to give a further push to raising an Islamist generation on the continent to use for political objectives and perhaps to employ this human resource as an asset for collecting intelligence and engaging in espionage for the intelligence agency.
Kalın is grateful to Erdogan for saving him from serious criminal troubles and will do his bidding with no questions asked. In 2013 both Tivnikli and Kalın were suspects in an organized crime network that was involved in fraud, forgery and abuse of power in fixing government contracts, tenders and public property sales. Kalin was acting as an illegal lobbyist for Tivnikli in the Turkish capital, resolving problems in energy deals the businessman pursued. In exchange Tivnikli covered the education expenses of Kalın’s daughter, Rumeysa Kalın (Karabulut). The investigation was made public on December 25, 2013, but Erdogan stepped in and killed the probe before it went to trial.
Rumeysa Kalın Karabulut previously worked as a law clerk at US law firm Saltzman & Evinch. The Wall Street Journal had reported that the Turkish government used Saltzman & Evinch to gather information about Erdogan critics living in the US. Since 2019 Karabulut has been working as a reporter for Turkey’s state-owned TRT World broadcasting network, a government mouthpiece.
In total 41 people, including Erdogan’s son Bilal and Saudi businessmen Yasin al-Qadi, at one-time designated under sanctions by the UN and US for alleged financing of terrorism, were named as suspects in the major corruption case.