The leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group in Sudan, a country beset by internal conflict, has been directing operations through Turkey, United Nations investigators have revealed.
In a report submitted to the UN Security Council in July, investigators stated that an Iraqi national named Abu Bakr Al-Iraqi, a veteran figure within ISIS, is overseeing ISIS cells in Sudan and financing operations through illicit means in Turkey.
The report referenced intelligence from a UN member state, indicating that Al-Iraqi had established multiple businesses under false identities in both Sudan and Turkey. He reportedly manages several money exchange enterprises and a travel/tourism agency in Turkey, while also maintaining significant investments within Sudan.
The ISIS network in Sudan comprises approximately 100 to 200 experienced fighters who primarily function as facilitators for logistical operations and transactions, as highlighted in the UN report.
Every six months, the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, a UN entity dedicated to tracking ISIS, al-Qaeda and related individuals, groups and entities globally, presents a thorough and independent report to the UN Security Council. This report details the latest developments concerning these groups.
According to the UN’s assessment, the risk of terrorism remains significant within areas of conflict, with the enduring strength of terrorist organizations implying the potential for resurgence under specific conditions. The investigators cautioned that ongoing instability in Sudan could be exploited by terrorist groups, thereby affecting conflict zones across Africa.
Intelligence gathered from UN member states indicates that armed jihadists in North Africa utilize Sudan as a central hub for both their entry and subsequent transit towards southern Libya, Mali and West Africa.
UN report on ISIS:N2318974
In recent times, a growing body of evidence has emerged substantiating the utilization of Turkey by ISIS as a hub for funding its worldwide operations, facilitating the movement of fighters and acquiring logistical resources. The US Treasury has imposed sanctions on multiple money exchange establishments operated by ISIS within Turkey. Al-Iraqi’s financial activities through Turkey fit into this larger trend, illustrating how ISIS has found it convenient to exploit the Turkish financial system for funds transfers.
The Islamist government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey has, over the years, ignored the activities of ISIS. In certain instances, Turkish intelligence agency MIT (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı) has even collaborated with specific ISIS cells to execute operations that align with the domestic and foreign objectives of the Turkish government.
For example, the mastermind behind a series of ISIS terrorist attacks in 2015, including Turkey’s most devastating, has been revealed to have connections to MIT.
A confidential in-house assessment compiled by Turkish police intelligence states that İlhami Balı (better known by his nom de guerre Abu Bakr or Ebu Bekir), who was indicted on charges of masterminding the ISIS attacks in 2015, met secretly with MIT agents in the Turkish capital of Ankara in 2016. The report suggested Balı’s actions were directed by MIT, which coordinated clandestine operations within ISIS for political goals in line with the Erdogan government’s directives.
UN investigators have additionally reached the conclusion that ISIS maintains its perspective of the northwestern region of Syria, currently under the authority of the Turkish Armed Forces and associated armed jihadist factions, as a potential entry point to Turkey and a sanctuary where the group can blend into the local populace.
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an entity reputed to maintain close ties with Turkish intelligence, exerts significant control over the region, boasting a force of around 7,000 to 12,000 fighters. This contingent encompasses roughly 1,000 foreign terrorist combatants.
Despite being designated as a terrorist organization in Turkey, HTS seemingly enjoys a level of protection from stringent law enforcement measures and the Turkish judiciary. This leniency is believed to stem from political support extended to the group by the government under President Erdogan.
The UN report has raised doubts about the veracity of Erdogan’s assertion that Turkish intelligence agency MIT conducted an operation in Syria resulting in the death of ISIS leader Abu al-Husain al-Husaini al-Qurashi, who had been heading ISIS since November 2022. The report indicated that Erdogan’s claim lacked confirmation from other UN member states. One member state specifically identified the deceased individual as solely the security leader within the Syrian branch of the group.
Erdogan’s comments regarding the purported death of the ISIS leader were made in April during interviews with various pro-government networks targeting audiences exclusively in Europe. In these interviews, he accused Europe of endorsing terrorism and contended that Turkey stood alone in its fight against terrorism. He criticized the United States for making a big fuss worldwide when it eliminated senior ISIS figures, asserting that it was Turkey’s intelligence agency, MIT, that successfully located the new ISIS leader, ultimately resulting in the demise of al-Qurashi.
The following day Turkish media outlets under government influence extensively covered accounts of a special operation purportedly executed by MIT, after months of meticulous tracking of the ISIS leader. These identical reports asserted that al-Qurashi detonated an explosive device when he recognized he was on the verge of apprehension.
The narratives published across several government-controlled media sites featured videos and photos from a partially destroyed home in Idlib but conspicuously omitted any images of the deceased ISIS leader.
The Turkish intelligence agency has gained notoriety for disseminating fabricated narratives in the media, often with the intention of enhancing its reputation, shaping public discourse or advancing specific objectives on behalf of the Erdogan government.
On August 3, 2023 subsequent to the release of the UN report, ISIS spokesperson Abu Huthaifa al-Ansari declared the demise of al-Qurashi, stating that he was killed in direct confrontation with HTS.