Over the past several years, a number of Turks have been killed while waging jihad against NATO, US, and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Other Turks been arrested in foiled plots to carry out attacks against European and US targets in Europe. The group with which most Turkish jihadists are affiliated is the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) (formerly called the Islamic Jihad Group or IJG), which was designated a global terrorist organization by the US State Department in June 2005.
In early 2007, the IJU debuted its Turkish-language website, and since then a growing number of similar Turkish websites have emerged, which suggests an increase in Turkish involvement in jihadist activity over time. These sites and postings also indicate that Turks are active in the Haqqani Network; the Taifatul Mansura (or the Victorious Sect, a transnational Turkish jihadist group that operates along the Afghan-Pakistani border and is affiliated with the IJU, al Qaeda, and the Taliban); and the Cemaat-ul-Islam (or the Jamaat or Assembly of Islam, a jihadist group affiliated with the Afghan Taliban).
The most well-known Turkish suicide bomber in Afghanistan was Cüneyt Çiftçi (Saad Ebu Furkan), an IJU member who attacked a NATO compound on March 3, 2008, killing several NATO, US, and Afghan soldiers. Other Turks who have plotted attacks against European targets are members of the IJU’s so-called “Sauerland Cell,” which planned to attack US and German targets in Europe in September 2007. Most recently, in August of this year, a Turk named Cengiz Yalçın was arrested along with two Chechens on charges of plotting an attack in Spain or in Europe as part of an al Qaeda cell. It is not yet known whether he is a member of the IJU.
Turkey, a NATO member and a secular country with free elections and a liberal economy, is not a natural breeding ground for Islamic militancy. The country’s proximity to and influence in Central Asia, along with Turkish linguistic, religious, and ethnic affinities with Uzbeks and others in the region, however, make Turks a potential target audience for jihadist support and recruitment. In addition, with a Muslim population of 75 million Muslim and a large diaspora in Germany, Turkey represents an attractive recruitment pool for Islamic militant groups. Turkish immigrants in Germany have been involved in both the Sauerland Cell and IJU operations in Afghanistan.
Known Turkish fighters in the IJU:
Cüneyt Çiftçi (also known as Saad Ebu Furkan), “who came from Germany but of Turkish origin” according to an IJU statement, conducted a suicide attack in conjunction with Taliban militants on March 3, 2008 against a compound protected by NATO and Afghan troops in eastern Afghanistan. The attack on the compound, which housed an American provincial reconstruction team and the Afghan government district center, killed several NATO, US, and Afghan soldiers. Çiftçi had been trained to become a suicide bomber in an IJU camp in North Waziristan. The IJU site claimed responsibility for the attack on March 6, 2008, in a statement that included the first explicit reference to the group’s cooperation with Taliban:
On 3 March 2008, our Mujahid of the ISLAMIC JIHAD UNION has successfully carried out an operation against a military camp hosting Invader Infidels and Allied Forces in the Sabari Nation Valley in Afghanistan’s Paktika Region. This Heroic Mujahid, with God’s help, has attacked the Invader Infidel Army’s Camp with a car loaded with 4.5 Tons of Explosives. According to witnesses and the Taliban Mujahideen, with whom we organized the operation, the Invader Infidel’s Camp was completely destroyed. Following our operation, 5 helicopters continuously carried bodies out of the rubble. The number of soldiers who died in the camp was kept secret. According to witnesses and Mujahideen, the bodies of at least 60 American soldiers and 70 Collaborator Afghan soldiers were carried. This operation was in retaliation to our recently Martyred Mujahid Sheikh Ebu Leys El Libi and other Martyred Mujahedeen. This operation was carried out by bold Cüneyt Çiftçi (Saad Ebu Furkan), who came from Germany but of Turkish origin, who traded his luxurious life for Heaven…
Abu Zubayr al Turki was a Turkish trainer who fought against the Pakistani military and was later killed during fighting in northern Afghanistan. The exact date of his death is unknown, but it was sometime before June 2011, in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province (the location of his death was inferred from a eulogy statement that appeared in a July 2012 video titled “Shahid Abu Zubayr al Turki,” in which he was eulogized by several IMU members).
Sinan Tekin, (also known as Emir Yunis and Abu Yanis Turki) was a military commander who was killed by Pakistani forces on July 28, 2009 in the Waziristan tribal areas. According to a statement released by a Turkish jihadist forum on Feb. 4, 2012, he had set out to participate in jihad in June 2005. He served under the command of Sheikh Abu Omar, and was eventually named as the group’s “military commander and as Abu Omar’s deputy.”
Hasan Alpfidan (according to some sources, he was also known as Abu Muslim Kurdi, suggesting he was Kurdish) conducted a suicide attack on June 4, 2008, by driving a black Toyota filled with explosives into the office of the Afghan Intelligence service in Meydan-e Dzidazi in Khost province, wounding 23 people.
Atwal Abdur Rehman is a German-born Turk who took over the role of German Eric Breininger (also known as Abdul Gaffar el Almani) as head of the Taifatul Mansura and the German Taliban Mujahideen, after Breininger was killed while fighting Pakistani security forces during a clash near Mir Ali in North Waziristan on April 30, 2010. It is not known whether Atwal Abdur Rehman is alive or dead.
Abu Yasir al Turki was the media representative for the Taifatul Mansura Group; he has also been referred to as the “Media Spokesman” and “Commander of Media Wing.” He announced his resignation from this role in a statement in July 2010 in a posting on a jihadist website. A separate posting revealed that al Turki had been replaced by “Suraka Turki.” It is not known whether Abu Yasir is alive or dead, and no information is available for Suraka Turki.
In April 2008, the Turkish-language IJU site published a video interview with Abu Yasir al Turki titled, “Our Interview with our Brother Ebu Yasir El Turki from the Islamic Jihad Union Mujahideen,” in which he provided information about the lives of the mujahideen and their financial situation.
Selahhadin Turki was the manager of Elif Medya, a media group associated with the IJU and which usually publishes material in Turkish. He was killed along with seven others while fighting Pakistani security forces during a clash near Mir Ali in North Waziristan on April 30, 2010 in the same operation that killed Eric Breininger.
Sadullah Kaplan (also known as Ömer al Turki) was killed during an air raid by the Pakistani Air Force in Mir Ali in October 2007. He is thought to have trained in IJU camps in North Waziristan.
M.E. was mentioned in a statement released on Nov. 28, 2011 by Gazavat Media, a jihadist propaganda website that caters to Turkish jihadists belonging to the Taifatul Mansura. The statement described him as a Turkish fighter killed in a US Predator airstrike in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. According to the statement, he had fought with the Haqqani group known as the Pakistani Taliban, and had been affiliated with the group for three years.
Harun (last name unknown) was killed in a June 10, 2010 airstrike in the village of Norak in North Waziristan. His death was confirmed in a statement released by the Taifatul Mansura group on June 11, 2010 that was signed by Abu Yasir al Turki, the “Media Spokesman” and “Commander of Media Wing” of the group.
Zekeriya Çiftçi was the IJU’s Turkey representative in 20 cities until April 2009, when Turkish authorities arrested him.
Turkish members of the IJU’s Sauerland Cell, which plotted attacks against US and German targets in 2007:
On Sept. 11, 2007, the IJU issued a statement claiming responsibility for a plot to bomb targets in Germany that had been foiled by authorities a few days earlier, on Sept. 5. The statement also identified the group’s intended targets and warned of operations against Uzbek and US interests in the near future. This was the first time that the group had claimed responsibility for an operation since July 2004, when it had claimed responsibility for bombings against the US and Israeli embassies in Uzbekistan. The 2007 plot was the IJU’s first attempt to target a European country.
The IJU released the following statement on Sept. 11, 2007 claiming the foiled plot:
On 5 September 2007, three brothers have been arrested by the German intelligence [agency] in Germany’s Oberschledorn province. They were planning operations against the US Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany, and against US and Uzbekistan’s Consulate General offices in Germany. Our goals for these operations were: to express…our opposition to the oppression of US and Uzbekistan, two countries which are the leaders of the brutal policies against Islam and Muslims; and to provide a warning for the removal of the German Air Force base in Termiz, Uzbekistan. These two countries have long proven by their actions that they do not understand dialogue. Thus… they should know that if they do not change their behavior, they will be targets for such operations…. We need to reiterate that [the fact that] some of our brothers have gone to jail or been martyred, will not make us deviate from our goals….
Below is a list of Turks who were involved in the IJU cell that planned the foiled operations. The list includes the two Turkish members of the cell and a Turkish helper who is still at large. The Sauerland Cell (named after the region where the house they used to store their explosives was located) also had two German citizens along with several assistants helping with the plot.
Adem Yılmaz, a Turkish citizen living in Germany, and a member of the cell, was arrested in Germany in September 2007 and sentenced to prison for 11 years, in March 2010 by a Dusseldorf judge for his involvement in the plot and being a member of the terrorist organization IJU. He is thought to have trained in IJU camps in Pakistan in 2006.
Atilla Selek, a Turk who grew up in Germany, a member of the cell, was arrested by Turkish authorities in Konya in November 2007; then he was extradited to Germany to stand trial for his role in the planned operations. In March 2010, he was sentenced to ive years in prison for his role in the plan. He is thought to have trained in IJU training camps in the Pakistani region of Waziristan.
Mevlut Kar, (also known as Mevlut Zikara, Mulfit Kar Iiyas, Abdullah the Turk, and Abu Obaidah al Turki) was a Turkish immigrant in Germany who is thought to have helped the Saeurland cell by providing them with the explosives for the planned attacks.
On Jan. 26, 2012, the US added Kar to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The State Department noted that Kar was facilitator and recruiter for the IJU and that he had provided more than 20 detonators to members of the IJU. According to the State Dept.designation, he is currently wanted by Lebanon, and an Interpol Red Notice has been issued for his arrest and extradition. He was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison for attempting to establish an al Qaeda cell in Lebanon.
Turkish fighters in the Haqqani Network:
The IJU operates alongside the Taliban and its powerful subgroup, the Haqqani Network. On Nov. 30, 2011, Gazavat Media released a statement announcing the deaths of 21 Turkish mujahideen affiliated with the Haqqani Network; the list included the names of 18 of them, followed in most cases by their cities of origin:
1. Ramazan Çırak (Istanbul)
2. Ali Kemal (Adana)
3. Yavuz Acar (Van)
4. Orhan Kılıç (Tokat)
5. Muharrem Uçar (Van)
6. Murat Kurt (Adana)
7. Tarkan Alman (Adana)
8. Mucahid Eymen (Istanbul)
9. Erkan Özerk Zubeyr(Adana)
10. Serdar Özerk Zubeyr (Adana)
11. Mehmet Yılmaz (Istanbul)
12. Fatih (Diyarbakir)
13. Nazim (Bursa)
14. Muammer (Istanbul)
15. Yakup Tamer
16. Muhiddin Eksi
17. E. Mukatil
18. Kenan Gökçe