A Turkish NGO has come under scrutiny after organising the aid flotilla that was targeted in an Israeli raid Monday that left at least nine people dead as the boats looked to defy an Israeli embargo on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The Turkish organisation at the heart of the international debate over an Israeli raid on a fleet of aid boats on Monday that left at least nine people dead has raised doubts among some observers who question whether the group is a simple humanitarian aid NGO or an active supporter of terrorism.
The Foundation for Human Rights, Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) presents itself as an Islamic organisation whose goal is to provide assistance and support to Muslims in conflict zones. It is very active in the Palestinian authorities and even has a branch in Gaza.
The group was founded in Turkey in the 1990s to come to the aid of Bosnian Muslims who fell victim to the wars following the dissolution of Yugoslavia. In the years since, IHH convoys often succeeded in reaching conflict zones once considered inaccessible, such as Chechnya and remote areas of Afghanistan or Iraq.
The Turkish authorities have long harboured suspicions that there could be something more sinister lurking behind the group’s humanitarian façade. In several raids on the group's offices beginning in 1997, they discovered weapons and leaflets that would seem to indicate that certain members at least, under the cover of the group’s aid missions, had joined the combatants in Bosnia or Chechnya.
Jean-Louis Bruguière, a French judge specialising in anti-terrorism matters, has followed the group’s activities closely. In a 2006 report by the Danish Institute for International Studies on the role of Islamic charities in terrorist recruitment, US terrorism expert Evan F. Kohlmann noted that Bruguière had suspected IHH chief Bulent Yildrim of “recruiting for Jihad”. During the 2000 Seattle trial of Ahmed Ressam on terrorism charges, Bruguiere said the IHH was nothing but “a cover that allows mujahedeens to join the front in Afghanistan”.
The allegations, however, never stopped the group from operating from its base in Turkey. The group enjoys good relations with the moderate Islamic ruling party, the Justice and Development party, or AKP. In 2009, IHH organised several fundraisers for the Palestinian cause in villages under the sway of the AKP.
And Monday was not the first time the IHH had organised an aid convoy bound for the Gaza Strip. Just a little while before the group’s “Free Gaza” flotilla left on its attempt to defy the Israeli embargo on the Hamas-ruled enclave, Yildrim said at a press conference that the fleet would provide a “test” for Israel.
Video fragment by the Isreali military of the raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship on May 31, 2010, with added commentary by the IDF.
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