Turkish Intelligence Says al-Qaeda Planned Rocket Attack on U.S. Air Base

Andrew McGregor

April 22, 2011

Turkish security services claim to have learned of an al-Qaeda plot to use rockets to attack U.S. military aircraft at the Incirlik Air Base in southeastern Turkey. According to intelligence collected by the National Intelligence Organization (Milli Istihbarat Teskilati – MIT) and the General Directorate of Security (Emniyet Genel Mudurlugu), the plot was to be carried out by two Syrian members of al-Qaeda identified as Abu Muhammad al-Kurdi and Salih Battal (Today’s Zaman, April 6).

IncirlikThe Incirlik Air Base is located just outside the city of Adana and is used jointly by the U.S. Air Force and the Turkish Air Force (Turk Hava Kuwetleri). It is the permanent home of the U.S.A.F.’s 39th Air Base Wing, which acts as the host unit for American air operations using the base. Incirlik has played an important role in U.S. military and intelligence operations from the Cold War through to the war in Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks dated June 8, 2006 said that Turkey had allowed Incirlik to be used as a refueling stop for U.S. aircraft involved in the CIA’s rendition program (Guardian, January 17). Incirlik is also thought to be a forward storage site for U.S. nuclear weapons.

The revelations were followed on April 12 by a series of raids in Istanbul and the eastern province of Van on the homes of suspected members of al-Qaeda and Turkish Hezbollah, a largely Kurdish Islamist militant group involved in the torture and murder of hundreds of members of the Kurdish socialist Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK) rebel movement in the 1990s.

Forty-two suspects were detained by police in Istanbul and a further ten in Van. Turkish authorities said that one of the detainees was the alleged head of the Turkish chapter of al-Qaeda, Halis Bayancuk, a graduate of Cairo’s al-Azhar University and a former member of Turkish Hezbollah. He was charged with leading a terrorist organization in 2008, but released less than a year later (Today’s Zaman, April 14; Turkiye Radyo Televizyon [TRT], April 12).

In a recent move that outraged Turkish public opinion, a Turkish court ordered the release in January of at least 25 members of Turkish Hezbollah alleged to have been involved in the brutal murders of PKK members and rival Islamists. The release was ordered under a new law that states detainees cannot remain imprisoned for more than ten years without a trial. The case against the suspects was complicated by numerous allegations that Hezbollah operated as a covert arm of the state’s efforts to crush Kurdish separatism and Islamist challenges to the officially secular Turkish state (Hurriyet, January 7; BBC, January 23, 2000). Turkish authorities did not state whether any of those arrested were involved in the January release (Reuters, April 12).

The obvious importance of Incirlik Air Base to the furtherance of U.S. foreign policy interests in the region has inspired a number of Islamist militant cells to plan attacks on U.S. facilities at Incirlik. In 2002 four Arab-Americans were arrested in Detroit on charges of operating a terrorist cell. Sketches of the Incirlik air base were found in their apartment (Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2002; Washington Post, September 15, 2002). There are reports that Osama bin Laden suggested that a Turkish militant cell attack U.S. facilities at Incirlik, but the would-be attackers were dissuaded by the tight security at the base. They then turned their attentions to softer targets, bombing two Istanbul synagogues in November 2003 (Independent, December 18, 2003. There were further warnings of an imminent attack by suicide bombers or hijacked planes in February 2006.


This article first appeared in the April 22, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

New Law Sets Notorious Turkish Hezbollah Members Free

Andrew McGregor

January 13, 2011

Turkish Hezbollah 1Turkish Hezbollah Military Leader Haci Inan (Haberler)

At least 25 suspected terrorists in a notorious mass torture-murder investigation have been released by a Turkish court under the new terms of article 102 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which forbids detention for more than ten years without the conclusion of a trial. The release of the suspects from Turkish Hezbollah has pitted politicians and judges in a dispute over responsibility while an outraged public questions the state’s dedication to eliminating terrorist groups in Turkey. The men are among as many as 1,000 suspected criminals expected to be released under the new law (NTV, January 5; Hurriyet, January 6; Today’s Zaman, January 5). Many more terrorist suspects, including the killer of journalist Hrant Dink, could be released within the coming year. Other beneficiaries of the changes include members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK) and various left-wing organizations. Some of the suspects did not reach the streets after their release from custody, however; having failed to complete mandatory military service, they were taken straight to military recruiting offices.

Turkish Hezbollah 2Edip Gumus

The freed members of the ethnic Kurdish and Sunni Hezbollah movement (no connection to Lebanon’s Shi’a Hezbollah) include military leader Haci Inan, Istanbul leader Ilyas Kutulman and assassin Edip Gumus, who is accused of killing 42 people. The suspects were arrested in a January 2000 investigation that resulted in the death of Hezbollah leader Huseyin Velioglu and the discovery of dozens of bodies (many showing signs of torture and restraint) beneath a number of Hezbollah safe-houses. Many of the dead showed signs of having been buried alive. Searches discovered hundreds of videotapes recording the torture and execution of Kurdish PKK members and rival Islamists, many of them moderates (see Terrorism Monitor, January 25, 2008). Inan and Kutulman were charged with “attempting to overturn the constitutional order via force of arms,” based on Hezbollah’s avowed intention to replace the existing state with an Islamic government by force (Anatolia, January 4). The case is complicated by numerous allegations that Hezbollah operated as a covert arm of the state’s efforts to crush Kurdish separatism and Islamist challenges to the officially secular Turkish state (Hurriyet, January 7; BBC, January 23, 2000).

Many of the Hezbollah suspects were quickly given life sentences in local courts after their arrest, but once the cases arrived at the Supreme Court of Appeals in Ankara they became bogged down in the sluggish and undermanned Turkish justice system (Hurriyet, January 7). Others received life sentences in December 2009.

Though the suspects are not allowed to travel and must report to police on a regular basis, there is no indication that the appeals court will arrive at a verdict any time soon. The ordinance has come under legal criticism in Turkey as still failing to meet EU standards as intended.

This article first appeared in the January 13, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.