In the month following the devastating earthquake in Türkiye and Syria, leading Western newspapers, major charities and White House officials have encouraged Americans to donate to charities leading the relief efforts. Those recommended, however, include a dangerous Turkish regime-backed charity linked to Al Qaeda.
For many years, the Islamist Erdoğan regime has relied on the Humanitarian Relief Foundation – sometimes known as the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, but best known as the IHH – to advance its ideological agenda.
Despite serving as the public face of rescue and recovery efforts amid the rubble of earthquake-stricken Türkiye, the IHH is also a major contributor to Islamist terror.
An organizer of the violent 2010 “Gaza Freedom Flotilla,” it emerged in 2014 that the IHH was apparently smuggling arms and supplies to Al Qaeda jihadists in Syria, reportedly with the help of Türkiye’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
Georgetown and DeSales University academic Ahmet Yayla has separately noted extensive evidence of close collaboration of IHH officials with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Books published by the U.S. military level similar allegations.
As a result of these terror ties and other behaviors, branches of the IHH have been banned as terrorist organizations in Germany, Israel and the Netherlands.
Despite all this, prominent newspapers, charities, and prominent figures in the West have been quick to fundraise for the Islamist charity in the wake of the earthquake’s destruction.
Publications such as the Sydney Morning Herald, Toronto Star, TIME Magazine and the New York Times have, in the past month, heralded the IHH’s charitable efforts, praising its work “serving communities impacted by catastrophe and war,” and encouraging Westerners to donate to the group. All neglected to mention the charity’s past support for terror, in spite of previous reporting about the IHH’s activities by some of these very same newspapers.
Prominent figures joined in. White House official Laurie Schoeman, “Senior Climate Advisor” to the President, included the IHH on a list of suitable charities to which she encouraged Americans to donate.
Founded in 1995, the IHH’s jihadist leanings were present from the very beginning. According to the Wall Street Journal, a 1995 Bosnian intelligence report reveals that officials at IHH’s Sarajevo office were graduates of the Bosnian 7th Muslim Brigade, which “served as an umbrella for several hundred foreign Mujaheddin known at the time for their Islamist fervor.”
The CIA’s 1996 declassified report, International Islamic NGOs and Links to Terrorism, stated that the IHH was involved with extremist Islamist groups in Algeria and Iran. And a 2006 report by the Danish Institute for International Studies described the IHH as a terror front, and alleged the IHH recruited jihadists to fight in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Chechnya.
The IHH has done little to address these allegations. Although following the bans of its branches in Europe, the Turkish Islamist charity argues they were unaffiliated, separate legal entities, despite sharing the same name and logo.
Indeed, the IHH has long been unashamed of its most abhorrent behaviors. For over a decade, up until 2016, the IHH’s own website contained a tribute to Shamil Basayev, the Chechen terrorist responsible for the 2004 Beslan school siege, in which over 300 people were murdered, including 186 children.
Most importantly, the IHH is a key component of Erdoğan’s AKP. Counter-terrorism commentator Andrew McCarthy has written:
[The] IHH membership list reads like a Who’s Who in Erdogan’s AKP. IHH’s former chairman, Eyup Fatsa, is an AKP member of Parliament, and is believed by Israeli intelligence to have forged the alliance between IHH and AKP in the late Nineties.
Ahmet Yayla, citing dozens of examples of the IHH’s close ties and shared officials with the ruling AKP government, labels the IHH a “governmental‐nongovernmental‐organization.” Erdogan’s own son, in fact, has been involved with the IHH.
The devastating earthquake may look financially ruinous for economically-troubled Türkiye, but there are opportunities for the Islamist government and its networks of supporters to accrue significant ideological benefit in the post-disaster cleanup and recovery.
Since their very beginnings, Islamist movements have thrived through charitable work. The Muslim Brotherhood established itself in Egypt by developing a “reputation as a benevolent ally of Egypt’s economically marginalized classes and a strong advocate for the public interest.” Hamas challenged Fatah’s supremacy in the Palestinian territories by providing social services, all while its corrupt rivals embezzled international aid funds. And in 2012, the Times reported that al-Qaeda terrorists in Mali “have subsidized state utilities, capped food prices and made welfare payments to the needy.”
Such thinking spread to the West, where Islamist movements such as Jamaat-e-Islami set up social services, international aid charities and homeless shelters. Today, second only to mosques, charities make-up the leading proportion of Islamist-dominated Western Muslim institutions.
Western Islamist chartable efforts do not just benefit Western Islamist movements, but foreign terror as well. In 2014, for instance, it emerged that British Islamist “charity workers” were building schools in Syria that bore the Islamic State flag, all paid for through fundraising efforts in Britain.
Hamas, meanwhile, worked to establish the Union of Good, an umbrella group of international Islamist charities, including Western groups, explicitly tasked with funding Hamas’s social services agenda. Member charities of the Union of Good reportedly included the British charity Interpal, now a designated terrorist organization under U.S. law. Another member was the IHH.
The brilliance of the Islamist charitable model is that it does not just afford Islamist movements moral and political legitimacy among ordinary Muslims, but it provides them with supporters from non-Muslims in the West as well. Every year, Islamist charities enjoy tens of millions of dollars of funding from Western governments and various non-Muslim partners, even, or arguably especially so, under the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, many Western charities have a history of partnership with the IHH. Donations to these charities – most of which have set up fundraising campaigns in response to the earthquake – may well end up in IHH coffers; or at least paying for projects for which the IHH will take credit.
In previous years, the IHH’s own reports have declared a dozen Western charitable collaborators, many of which are Islamist themselves. In the United States, academic Ahmet Yayla notes IHH partners have included American NGOs such as “the Zakat Foundation, MUSIAD, and Islamic Relief.”
Turkish media has already confirmed that MUSIAD’s parent organization in Türkiye is working with the IHH on current relief efforts. The Investigative Project on Terrorism, meanwhile, previously uncovered that Zakat Foundation head Halil Demir once previously served as an “IHH aid coordinator.”
Islamic Relief, which has been handed millions by U.S. and European governments over the past decade despite its well-documented history of extremism, was instrumental in establishing the U.K-based Humanitarian Forum (also known as the World Humanitarian Action Forum), which is managed by Islamic Relief’s founder, Hany El-Banna.
The IHH is a key partner of the Forum, alongside the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), a UK government-funded charitable coalition. It’s an incestuous network: the DEC is currently run by the former head of Islamic Relief.
IHH enjoys the support of Western non-Muslim partners as well. It appears to have worked with groups such as World Vision, an evangelical charity with a history of looking the other way on matters of terror finance.
The IHH is also a member of the Turkish regime’s Union of NGOs of the Islamic World (UNIW), a coalition of Islamist charities from across the globe that includes a considerable number of prominent Western Islamist groups, many of which have previously received U.S. government funding. UNIW is an overtly extreme initiative. Its Secretary General Ali Kurt recently declared before an audience of members, including officials of Western Islamist charities, that the U.S, U.K. and European Union are “our enemies.”
It is unclear how much of the Western fundraising of these IHH partners will end up with the IHH. Some Western Islamist charities, such as the UK-based Human Relief Foundation, have already declared they are working directly with the IHH on disaster relief efforts.
Alongside possible additional indirect funding from Western governments through the IHH’s Western partners, social media posts also indicate that Islamist-run mosques in the U.S. and Europe are encouraging congregants to donate directly to the radical Turkish charity.
Repeating Old Mistakes
To some extent, however, the actual amount of funding is immaterial. That the IHH can earn the praise and trust of Western media, government figures and charities after so recently being exposed as a key supporter of Salafi-jihad is testament to the dangerous success of the Islamist charitable model, and indicates Western officials and media simply failed to learn from efforts after 9/11 to clamp down on international terror finance, so much of which is routed through nonprofit networks.
Turkish Islamism will not hesitate to capitalize on the charitable campaigns, making use of the IHH’s charitable successes to advance its agendas. Turkish regime media has already highlighted the role that IHH plays in spreading the goodwill of the regime following the earthquake, quoting a Kashmiri student – “a graduate of Islamic sciences from Recep Tayyip Erdogan University” – declaring that IHH is “always there for us, anywhere in the world.”
The IHH and the AKP are not the only Islamist group working to exploit the horror of the earthquake’s destruction for its own ideological ends.
Writing in Nordic Monitor, Abdullah Bozkurt observes that the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) – a key institution of the international Muslim Brotherhood – has “set their sights on tapping multibillion-dollar earthquake relief funds that have poured in from domestic and foreign donors for victims of devastating February earthquakes in Turkey in order to construct buildings that would help promote the militant and politicized Islamist ideology.”
Tellingly, Bozkurt points out that IUMS’s Turkish spokesman Ömer Faruk Korkmaz also happens to be a board member of the IHH.
The United States then-solicitor general, Elena Kagan, explained in 2010 that “Hezbollah builds bombs. Hezbollah also builds homes. … When you help Hezbollah build homes, you are also helping Hezbollah build bombs.”
In the ruins of southern Türkiye, under the careful direction of the IHH and its AKP partners, there are certainly a lot of homes to build.