Turkey faces renewed Salafist threat

2,000 Salafi associations are claimed to be preparing for a civil wa in the southeastern province of Batman. (File/Shutterstock)
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Updated 21 September 2020

Turkey faces renewed Salafist threat

  • The groups are believed to be intimidating local people with death threats

JEDDAH: Islamist cult leader Ahmet Mahmut Unlu, a pro-government figure, announced that he is ready to name at least 150 Salafi associations, along with their locations, as part of preparations to fight in Turkey.

Quoted by Saygi Ozturk, a prominent journalist from Turkish newspaper Sozcu, Unlu also claimed that there are 2,000 Salafi associations around the country that are preparing for a civil war, especially in the southeastern provinces of Batman and Adiyaman.

The groups are believed to be intimidating local people with death threats and warning the government against implementing preventive measures against them.

Adiyaman was previously known as a hotspot for recruiting and deploying Daesh cells in Turkey.

The accusations were harshly refuted by Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who said the claims in the article were drafted with a “copy-paste” mentality.

In the meantime, a Turkish court recently sentenced Abu Hanzala, the leader of Daesh in Turkey, to 12 years and six months in jail. He has been imprisoned several times before in Turkey on suspicion of affiliation with Al-Qaeda and Daesh, but he was later freed due to the lack of evidence.

Colin Clarke, senior research fellow on terror financing networks with the Soufan Group, said that some Salafi groups might have struck a deal with the ruling government in Turkey.

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may very well view these groups as useful counterbalances to the Kurds, which has always been the number one issue for Ankara,” he told Arab News.

Clarke said Turkey pays lip service to fighting Daesh and other terrorist groups, but has only taken limited actions toward combating jihadists on Turkish soil.

Four years ago, Turkish police released a report about the presence of Salafist groups in Turkey, claiming that their numbers totaled over 20,000.

Matteo Pugliese, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Barcelona and associate research fellow at Milan-based think tank ISPI, said that at the beginning of the Syrian conflict Turkey facilitated the flow of foreign fighters through the border to weaken the Assad regime, which contributed to the strengthening of Salafi-jihadi groups, including Jabaat Al-Nusra and Daesh.

“Later, Turkey suffered a number of terrorist attacks from Daesh, especially in Istanbul, Ankara and Diyarbakir,” he told Arab News.

Experts said that Turkey supported some Salafist factions during the Syrian conflict to fight the Assad regime, but this made the country a corridor for fighters, along with Daesh and Al-Nusra.

Turkey was attacked several times by Daesh. The group killed 315 people in 10 suicide bombings, seven bomb attacks and four armed attacks.

The Salafist associations are believed to have grown root during this period, with an extremely sectarian discourse that was also found in the media. As these associations regularly engaged in humanitarian aid operations to the refugees, their widening presence in Turkish territories has been normalized.

“The attitude of the Turkish government slightly changed towards jihadists, but the main priority remained the fight against the Kurds. The Syrian militias used by the Turkish government to invade northern Syria and occupy strategic zones such as the Afrin canton and the Kobane area are full of jihadists who previously belonged to organizations such as Al-Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham, Nour Al-Din Al-Zenki and even Daesh in some cases,” Pugliese said.

Pugliese said the Turkish government is most likely unfriendly with the Salafist domestic community, as Erdogan has strong relations with the Muslim Brotherhood.

“But I guess many Salafists like his religious policies. Turkey’s selective fight of terrorism undermines regional security. In that political environment radical Salafist ideas could flourish and find new recruits,” he said.

Pugliese said a strong intelligence and police campaign to find hundreds of former Daesh members in Turkey is needed, along with secular policies to tackle Salafist extremism.

Saad Hariri named new Lebanon PM, promises reform cabinet

Updated 15 min 10 sec ago

Saad Hariri named new Lebanon PM, promises reform cabinet

  • Hariri immediately promised a government of technocrats committed to a French-backed reform plan
  • He has previously led three governments in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Three-time Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri was named to the post for a fourth time Thursday and immediately promised a government of technocrats committed to a French-backed reform plan.
Hariri said he would “form a cabinet of non politically aligned experts with the mission of economic, financial and administrative reforms contained in the French initiative roadmap.”
“I will work on forming a government quickly because time is running out and this is the only and last chance facing our country,” he added.
President Michel Aoun named Hariri to form a new cabinet to lift the country out of crisis after most parliamentary blocs backed his nomination.
Hariri, who has previously led three governments in Lebanon, stepped down almost a year ago under pressure from unprecedented protests against the political class.
“The president summoned... Saad Al-Deen Al-Hariri to task him with forming a government,” a spokesman for the presidency said.
Hariri was backed by a majority of 65 lawmakers, while 53 abstained.
Lebanon is grappling with its worst economic crisis in decades and still reeling from a devastating port blast that killed more than 200 people and ravaged large parts of Beirut in August.
Aoun warned Wednesday that the new prime minister, the third in a year, would have to spearhead reforms and battle corruption.
A relatively unknown diplomat, Mustapha Adib, had been nominated in late August following the resignation of his predecessor Hassan Diab’s government in the aftermath of the deadly port blast.
Adib had vowed to form a cabinet of experts, in line with conditions set by French President Emmanuel Macron to help rescue the corruption-ridden country from its worst ever economic crisis.
He faced resistance from some of the main parties however and threw in the towel nearly a month later, leaving Lebanon rudderless to face soaring poverty and the aftermath of its worst peacetime disaster.