Turks Join the Jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 47

While it is a long held maxim that Turkey is “with” the West in the war on terrorism—especially after the 2003 Istanbul bombings—the invasion of Iraq has made anti-Americanism vogue in Turkey. Some Turks believe that Jews blew up the World Trade Center and that the United States has secret plans to invade Turkey in order to create a Kurdistan on its territory. Such sentiments are not strictly limited to an extremist fringe; this is best demonstrated by the fact that Hitler’s Kavgam (Mein Kampf) and Metal Firtna (a Tom Clancy-esque book depicting the “inevitable” U.S. invasion of Turkey) recently became bestsellers in Turkey. It is also seen in the most expensive movie ever produced in Turkey, Valley of the Wolves Iraq, which features U.S. soldiers shooting up Iraqi weddings and harvesting Iraqi body parts for shipment to Tel Aviv. Similar sentiments have subsequently begun to appear on Turkish jihadi websites. While Turkish extremist websites were previously devoted almost exclusively to lionizing Chechen jihadis fighting the “Godless” Russians (often featuring footage of Russian vehicles hitting landmines and Chechen field commanders in action), Americans are now starring in the role of kafir (infidel) targets for Iraqi and Taliban mujahideen on Turkish websites.

Several sites, such as cihaderi.net, feature a page entitled “U.S. Roadkill” that displays gory images of slain and maimed U.S. soldiers in Iraq with blogger subtitles ecstatically boasting about “U.S. dogs and road meat who deserve a worse fate than merely being blown up.” Other sites, often with a pro-Hezbollah and anti-Israeli slant that became more prevalent following the recent July-August conflict in Lebanon, feature American caskets, shots of Abu Ghraib and epitaphs to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (http://www.islamkalesi.com). In between the images of Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and stone throwing Palestinians, even more disturbing images are found. One of these images proclaims: “For those who watched Valley of the Wolves, here is a living legend (Osama bin Laden is featured next to a lion). We invite you to the Valley of the Wolves Afghanistan.” Such calls appear to have been heeded. Pictures of Turkish shehits (martyrs) who left NATO-member Turkey to fight as jihadi volunteers against NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan seem to substantiate claims that Turks are being killed in Afghanistan (Khaleej Times, October 19). The Turkish jihadi site mucadele.com recently posted a jihadi epitaph for Zubeyr Kunyeli Ahmet, “our young Turk who was martyred in Afghanistan.” The site takva.com similarly posted the jihadi epitaph of an Osman Ozkan from Bursa who “became a martyr fighting alongside the Taliban against the United States.”

Also, the site kudusyolu.com recently described the “martyrdom” of Bilal Yaldizci who “traveled to Pakistan for schooling” before joining the mujahideen in dangerous operations in the Hindu Kush. There he was martyred in combat before becoming a cause celebre on Turkish Islamist websites which feature songs in his honor. Yaldizci’s final letter chastising his parents for pushing him to succeed in work and school instead of protecting his fellow Muslims reappeared on many Turkish sites which eulogized him (http://www.acizane.com). The case of Bilal Yaldizci is interesting in that the Turkish press previously reported the existence of a little known network of “Afghan-Turks” who fought against the Soviets in the 1980s (Turkish Daily News, October 17, 2001). The fact that the first Turkish volunteer mujahid to die in this struggle was also named Bilal Yaldizci might indicate that the recent martyr’s name is a laqab or kunya (nom de guerre) and not his real name.

Turks who travel to the region today, including one who was recently reported killed by U.S. troops in an NPR report, may be following an older jihad trail through Iran. According to Mehmet Farac, a group of 20 Turks led by Habib Akdas first traveled to the Afghan training camps in Kandahar and Kabul from 1997-2001 [1]. Some of this group subsequently traveled to the Ansar al-Islam jihadi enclave in Iraqi Kurdistan [2]. The Amir of this Turkish group, Habib Akdas, went on to lead the November 2003 El Kaide Turka (Turkish al-Qaeda) bombings of Jewish and British targets in Istanbul before fleeing to Iraq to fight Americans, where he was subsequently killed. There is also the case of the Turkish gastarbeiter (known as the “Bremen Taliban”) from Germany, Murat Kurnaz, who was detained by U.S. forces in Guantanamo after being apprehended in Afghanistan (Der Spiegel, January 10).

There is thus a precedent for Turks engaging in jihad in Afghanistan. The fact that 12 Turks were reported martyred in a recent aerial bombardment in the Pakistani agency of Waziristan—among whom was an Istanbuli who went by the kunya of “Mohammad Atta” (in reference to the team commander for the 9/11 hijackers)—would indicate that the call to the “Valley of the Wolves Afghanistan” has been heeded by Turkish jihadis (http://www.cihaderi.net). A recent posting describes the martyrdom of a 24-year-old Turk from Bitlis (eastern Turkey, although he moved to Adana) named Arif Guler who traveled from the jihad in Kashmir to fight in Iraq. This indicates that others have found a zone of jihad nearer at hand. Guler, like Akdas before him, was killed in a U.S. aerial strike (http://www.kudusyolu.com). Another jihadi site posted the epitaph of a Muhammad from Trebizond who fought in Chechnya under Shamil Basaev before dying in Iraq (http://www.takva.com).

Such Turkish jihadi activity in the “Valley of the Wolves Iraq” is not limited, according to the pro-Chechen website kavkaz.org which reprinted an article from Vakit entitled “Turkish Mujahideen in Iraq.” The claims on this website of Turkish jihadi involvement in Iraq are substantiated by Turkish jihadi websites. One of these mentions the martyrdom of Ebubekir Yigit from Bitlis who is also mentioned on the Kavkaz site. The case of Ebubekir Yigit, whose death was widely reported in the Turkish media, is particularly alarming in that he engaged in a suicide bombing attack against U.S. troops that reportedly killed seven Americans (http://www.vahdet.org).

Most recently, the jihadi site mucadele.com, which features a video clip of the famous Iraqi sniper Juba and images of Bush being beheaded by al-Qaeda in Iraq, has a full page jihadi epitaph to a Turk named Abu Muhammad Umar. Umar was blown up in a filmed suicide bombing against a CIA base (the photographs of his suicide attack are on the site, entitled “Turkish Mujahideen Martyred in Operation Against CIA Base”) (http://forum.mucadele.com). His epitaph provides some insight into the world of Turks who reject their country’s secular values and join the jihadis who have ironically enough beheaded Turkish hostages in both Iraq and Afghanistan (usually truck drivers or engineers working for the “puppet” governments of Hamid Karzai or Nuri al-Maliki).

The epitaph read, “The harm he delivered [in his suicide attack on the CIA] is so big the Americans find it is unspeakable. In the name of Creator, on January 2006 Abu Muhammad Umar left his four children and wife to elevate Allah’s religion and he went to Iraq to share the torture and the misery of his brothers and to have revenge against the kafirs (infidels). Every time he’d previously watched jihad videos his hate grew bigger and bigger. He used to cry when he saw the women being raped on the videos. He used to cry and say ‘They are no different from my wife and sister. These disgusting dogs are touching my namuz (pride in one’s ability to protect women, homeland and faith). I have to go kill them for revenge.’ While watching these videos his hatred grew and whenever he saw the explosions and dead American soldiers he used to shout Allahu Akbar (God is Great) and bang the table…Everywhere he went he talked about jihad and how much he loved Sheikh Osama [bin Laden]…He used to tell his kids about heaven and he wanted them to know the infidel. He used to tell them that they need to kill infidels when they grow up…Seeing his brothers being tortured and the unfairness he said ‘It can’t continue! I must blow myself up.’ And he did it, our brother Abu Muhammad Umar did what he said he would do. May God accept him.”

While the participation of Turks in jihad operations against the United States is certainly a dangerous development, it is still a fringe phenomenon and there are many that value American culture, even if it is not as trendy as it used to be before the Iraq invasion. As in the case of Turkish jihadis fighting Russians in Chechnya, their numbers are few and in the case of Afghanistan far outweighed by Turkey’s participation in ISAF, NATO and the Karzai government’s building projects (Terrorism Monitor, April 7, 2005). Nevertheless, they are an example of the unexpected public relations fall-out stemming from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the revulsion many Turks felt at the Abu Ghraib images. Such sentiments can be channeled by the growing number of Turkish Islamists into anti-American jihad operations that have cost both Turkish and American lives (Insight Turkey, January-March).

Notes

1. Mehmet Farac, Ikiz Kuleler’den Galata’ya El Kaide Turka, Istanbul: 2004. For a discussion of this group see pages 121-130.

2. Ibid.