Senior Hamas figure Bakri Hanifa, a Syrian national, acquired Turkish citizenship in a process facilitated by the pro-Hamas Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has been expediting naturalization for operatives of the Palestinian jihadist group.
According to documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, Hanifa acquired Turkish citizenship sometime last year, retaining his name, unlike some other Hamas operatives who assumed Turkish names after naturalization.
Hanifa is believed to function as a major financial operative for Hamas. In a September 14, 2014 article the Kuwaiti al-Seyassah newspaper reported that Hanifa moved tens of millions of dollars from Qatar to Turkey, forwarding the funds to Hamas’s political and military wings. He operated a currency exchange business in Syria when Hamas political was based there, relocating due to the civil war in 2011.
In Turkey, Hanifa took over ownership of İlkarlar Döviz Ticaret Merkezi A.Ş., dealing in foreign currency, jewelry and precious metals. This company was previously owned by Turkish gold trader Erdogan Aşık and his associates, with the transfer occurring on October 1, 2013. Hanifa assumed sole ownership and submitted his Syrian identity documents for registration with Turkish authorities.
Trade registry filing that reflected the change of ID information for Bakri Hanifa from Syrian to Turkish nationality:name_change_Bakri_hanifa_trade_registry_filing
Originally established in September 2010, the company has undergone two name changes under Hanifa’s ownership. It currently operates under the name İlkarlar Yetkili Müessese A.Ş. The company’s office is located at Nur-u Osmaniye Cad. No.23 in Istanbul’s Beyazıt neighborhood.
A filing submitted by Hanifa on August 2, 2022 indicates he requested that Turkish authorities modify his identity information in the trade registration documents from Syrian to Turkish. His request was approved the following day, and the updated information was subsequently published in the official trade registry publication, Ticaret Sicili Gazetesi.
That filing suggests that his citizenship request was approved and finalized in the early summer of 2022.
In June 2019 Hanifa appointed another Syrian named Baraa Kabas as the general manager of the company. On August 4, 2022 Kabas submitted a petition to Turkish regulators seeking to replace his Syrian identity with Turkish identity in the registration papers. This indicates that he, too, acquired Turkish nationality around the same time as his boss, Hanifa.
Currency exchange houses in Turkey are subject to stringent regulation and monitoring, especially by the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK). MASAK serves as the coordinating body with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global watchdog for money laundering and terrorist financing.
Hanifa’s company holds certification from MASAK, an administrative agency under the Treasury and Finance Ministry, led by Mehmet Şimşek, Turkey’s economy czar.
Hanifa’s company faced no issues in obtaining certification to operate the currency exchange business. In the certification document submitted to MASAK, İlkarlar was confirmed to be operating in complete compliance with Turkey’s laws and regulations regarding measures against money laundering and terrorism financing.
The certification further indicated that the company operates in accordance with rules, guidelines and recommendations provided by the United Nations, the FATF, the European Union and other international organizations.
İlkarlar’s certification declaration with MASAK:Ilkarlar_Masak_document
The current value of the company’s assets and its revenue are unknown since the most recent audit published by the external auditing firm Edit is dated December 31, 2018. According to this report, the company had assets valued at 2.7 million Turkish lira that year. It earned revenue of 836.4 million lira from gold sales, 17.4 million from silver sales, 46 million from US dollar sales and 56.2 million from euro sales in 2018.
Since then, the company has not disclosed its audit reports to the public.
Many Hamas figures, including some senior leaders, have been residing and operating in Turkey with the protection and support of the Erdogan government. Turkish intelligence agency MIT has provided protective details for some Hamas leaders and has played a role in establishing headquarters for Hamas leadership in Istanbul.
İlkarlar’s 2018 audit report:lkarlar_2018_audit_report
While some Hamas front companies have been sanctioned by the US, they continue to conduct business and access the Turkish financial and banking system without hindrance.
Some Hamas officials changed their names in Turkey after acquiring citizenship to hide their tracks. For example, Hisham Younis Yahya Qafisheh, a Hamas operative involved in several businesses in Turkey, adopted the Turkish name Haşmet Aslan after obtaining citizenship in March 2021.
The Erdogan government does not consider Hamas a terrorist group but rather freedom fighters. During a parliamentary address on October 25, President Erdogan asserted, “Hamas is not a terrorist organization but rather a group of liberators and mujahideen fighting to protect their land and citizens.” This characterization has been reiterated on multiple occasions since then.