Turkish police units launched their largest anti al-Qaeda operation to date on the morning of January 22. The operation took place in a series of pre-dawn raids in towns throughout Turkey. It led to the arrest of as many as 140 people allegedly involved in an al-Qaeda ring that was plotting to carry out suicide bombings against Turkish troops in Afghanistan as well as attacks on the Turkish police (Hurriyet, January 22). The terrorists’ target appears to have been the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters in Kabul, which has a sizeable Turkish contingent, and Turkish police facilities in several cities that have been involved in previous al-Qaeda arrests.
Led by the Emniyet Genel Mudurlugü (EGM – General Directorate of Security), the raids took place in the cities of Van, Ankara, Sanliurfa, Mersin, Malatya, Adana, Gaziantep, Diyarbakir, Mus and 14 other towns (Milliyet, January 23). Many of these towns are in eastern Turkey, where there has been a rise in Salafism and militant Islam in recent years. While Turkey is currently run by the Islamist Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP – Justice and Development Party), it has shown itself to be as intolerant of al-Qaeda activities as previous secular governments.
According to the Turkish press, the arrests unfolded after the Turkish police uncovered an al-Qaeda-associated group in Ankara and Adana earlier in the week (Zaman, January 21). Information found at this time alerted them to the existence of three separate al-Qaeda rings that were said to have been run by an Afghan-based leader named Mehmet Dogan. Turkish sources claim that this figure was responsible for sending as many as 100 Turks to Afghanistan for military training and indoctrination. While it might seem incongruous that Turkey, a country known for its Ataturk-style secular tradition, would send so many people to Afghanistan or Pakistan for jihad training, in actuality there has been a small trickle of Turks going to fight jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years (see Terrorism Monitor, December 7, 2006). Seven Turkish nationals who were suspected of having ties to militant groups in Pakistan were deported from that country to Turkey on January 26. The suspects were turned over to Turkish authorities in Istanbul (Dawn [Karachi], January 28).
It should be recalled that homegrown Turkish al-Qaeda cells carried out a major suicide bombing that killed 58 in Istanbul in 2003 and attacked the U.S. consulate in Istanbul in 2008 (see Terrorism Monitor, November 18, 2004). Turkish jihadi websites have posted several martyrdom epitaphs for Turks who died fighting Coalition forces in Afghanistan in recent months. 
The purported leader of the targeted Turkish al-Qaeda group, Mehmet Dogan, had three amirs (commanders) under him, namely Serdar Erbashi (a.k.a. “Ebuzer,” the head of the Ankara cell), Dincay (head of the Kaceli cell) and Vedat Altin (head of the Gaziantep cell). Another leader of some significance was a professor at Yuzuncuyil University in Van known only as “M.E.Y.” who recruited several of his students.
Evidence found in the raids points to the existence of an elaborate plot and included anti- government propaganda, camouflage clothing, fake documents, plans of police stations, rifles, ammunition, photos of Turks in Afghanistan, explosives and grenades.
While mainstream Turks—who are by and large not interested in Salafist Islam—considered the arrested militants to be “brainwashed terrorists,” the active online jihadist community in Turkey reacted with dismay and fury to the arrests. The consensus on the Turkish jihadist sites is that Turkey is the “poodle” of the Americans and was acting under pressure from the CIA. One well-known jihadi site, cihaderi.net, which purports to convey “news from the jihad world,” had a lively debate over the arrest of “our Muslim brothers” by Turkish forces. One forum member who goes by the name “May Allah Be Their Helper” asked how good Muslims in Turkey could wage jihad in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Palestine when they are being killed “with our own arms” [i.e. by fellow Turks] and “our hands tied [by the Turkish authorities]” (cihaderi.net, January 22).
Under the sub-heading “I Can’t Stand It,” a second forum member admonished Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for not being able to stand up to the United States the way he did with Israel after the 2009 Gaza campaign (cihaderi.net, January 22). Another forum member wrote: “Those who have declared democracy and secularism to be curse words do not lick what [the Americans] spit, nor are they their slaves and servants” (cihaderi.net, January 22). A third forum member warned darkly that “everyone should know that even if the infidels and their stupid servants don’t want it, the day of reckoning shall come with Allah’s permission (cihaderi.net, January 22).
Another jihadist website, hakozhaber.net, had a discussion of the arrests wherein one forum member wrote, “We have said and written this numerous times and we will continue to do so. The security units under the AKP-Gulen coalition operate arbitrarily and unlawfully under the guise of a so-called al-Qaeda operation and they organize midnight raids with brutality against many innocent people just because of their Islamic identities, their Islamic education, their struggles, or for having some Islamic publications in order to please some global imperial centers” (haksozhaber.net, January 22). In a more controversial posting, a forum member described the Turkish government as the “servant of the Americans” and claimed that “if a person truly lives by the rules of Islam they should turn out to be like the Taliban and al-Qaeda.” The writer went on to declare, “I love them [those who were arrested], for in the name of Allah they are devoted” (haksozhaber.net, January 22).
While these forums provide an important window into the little-explored world of Turkish jihadism, one must not make the mistake of seeing their comments emblematic of broader Turkish society. While jihadist tendencies have risen in Turkey in recent years, a recent poll of Turks shows that roughly 50% of them still define themselves as “Ataturk secularists” and only 30% admit to being religious (Milliyet, January 27). But, as the scale of the arrests would seem to indicate, an increasing number of Turks are being drawn to the romanticized notion of jihad and have come to see the Turkish state, even one run by Islamists, as the enemy.
1. “Afganistan’da 2 Turk ve 1 Arab Kardesimiz Sehid Oldu.” cihaderi.net January 15, 2010. For a further listing of “Our Martyrs” who have died in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other zones of jihad, see: http://www.kudusyolu.net/category/sehitlerimiz/page/2. For photos of Turkish shehits (martyrs) in Afghanistan, see http://gonulerleri.org/forum/index.php?topic=5886.0.