Experts: Turkey very serious in intelligence sharing in counterterrorism fight

ŞEYMA NAZLI GÜRBÜZ @SeymNazli
ISTANBUL
Published 24.08.2017 23:00
Updated 24.08.2017 23:02
Hundreds of people gather at a makeshift memorial on March 24, 2016, two days after a triple bomb attack, claimed by the Daesh, hit Brussels’ airport and the Maelbeek - Maalbeek metro station, the killing 32 people and wounding 300 others.
Hundreds of people gather at a makeshift memorial on March 24, 2016, two days after a triple bomb attack, claimed by the Daesh, hit Brussels’ airport and the Maelbeek - Maalbeek metro station, the killing 32 people and wounding 300 others.

Through the comprehensive steps it has taken in counterterrorism intelligence sharing, experts say that Ankara has been able to effectively identify terror suspects

Turkey has deported more than 5,000 Daesh terrorists so far while also banning more than 53,000 foreign fighters from entering the country. However, despite these numbers, Turkey's intelligence sharing is being undermined by other countries by both ignoring intelligence information as well as blaming the country for using intelligence networks for the benefit of its own interests. According to the experts, however, especially as far as Syria-centered intelligence is concerned, Turkey takes intelligence sharing very seriously and is quite active in it as part of its counterterrorism strategy.

There are three institutions in Turkey that have their own intelligence service: the National Police Force, the Gendarmerie Command, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and some other state institutions that have supportive mechanisms. Nihat Ali Özcan, a senior security analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), said: "However, for these to work properly, there is the need for professionally trained people, an institutional culture, a good education system and also money."

Özcan also added that although recently Turkey has suffered from several traumas, the most important of which was the revelation of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), this traumatic incident showed the country's incapability within the intelligence system. "Yet, since the flaws of the system are known now, the attempts for compensation have already began and started to bear fruit," he said, adding that no country in the world can claim that their intelligence services works 100 percent.

On Tuesday, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said that they are working closely with Turkey to monitor French foreign fighters' activity, particularly those who are returning to France. While speaking on BFM TV, Collomb pointed out that many French nationals, including women and children, still remain in Syria and Iraq, with a total of 217 adults and 54 children making it back to France so far.

"When you combine technique with physical infrastructure, you reach the intelligence. That is to say, you need to support your technical power with the information that is coming from the field to have valid intelligence. Turkey has a developed technical infrastructure. However, recently, the country had a few problems with field information. Yet, it started to overcome this problem as well," another intelligence expert, who did not want to give his name, said to Daily Sabah regarding Turkey's current activities in intelligence sharing.

One of the most known examples of Turkey's intelligence sharing was the deportation of one of the terrorist suspects of the Brussels attacks in 2016, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui. In March 2016, there were two sucicide bombings at Zaventem Airport and a metro station in Belgium, which killed 32 people. Daesh claimed the attacks and an investigation found that it was carried out by a sleeper cell that was also responsible for suicide bombings and shootings in France in 2015.

After the attacks, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: "One of the attackers in Brussels is an individual we detained in Gaziantep in June 2015, and deported. We reported the deportation to the Belgian Embassy in Ankara on July 14, 2015, but he was later set free. Despite Turkey's warnings on him, European countries overlooked the signs and let him into their borders, which caused a massive terror attack. Belgium ignored our warning that this person is a foreign fighter," Erdoğan said.

Following Erdoğan's remarks, Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens confirmed that the suspect had been deported to the Netherlands, but claimed that at the time the terrorist was not known as a terrorist, but just as a common criminal. Ankara had also warned French authorities about Omar Ismail Mostefai, whose name turned up in an investigation of a cell of French nationals suspected of terrorism links that ran from late 2014 to the summer of 2015.

"Turkey takes intelligence sharing issue quite seriously and is in contact with several countries regarding the issue," Özcan said, indicating that it built an integrated system in the last few years and monitors terrorism suspects quite closely. "Yet, despite all these efforts, the important thing is the relationship between you and other countries. Intelligence sharing can only work if countries trust each other," he stressed.

Despite several examples from Turkey, some European countries' perceived indifference to the issue continues. They blame Turkey for the lack of intelligence sharing as well as abusing international intelligence networks.

On Monday, a German government spokesman blamed Turkey for abusing Interpol after the arrest and release of prominent Turkish-German writer Doğan Akhanlı in Spain. The spokesman said that Ankara tries to oppress its political opponents by misusing its alliance with Interpol. Turkey immediately responded, calling the remarks unacceptable and lashing out that Germany's protection of a criminal charged with murder is contrary to mutual agreements. The statement also added that the suspect, who was warranted by Interpol due to a request from Ankara, was suspected of killing a businessman during an armed robbery along with two PKK terrorists in 1984. After being arrested in Spain on Saturday, Akhanlı was released shortly after German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed the country not to extradite him to Turkey amid rising tension between Ankara and Berlin.

This is not the first time that the relationship between Interpol and Turkey has been brought into question. Recently, it was also claimed that Turkey has been denied from Interpol databases, which has been rejected immediately by Interpol, which said that Turkey's access to its databases has never been denied, and it is still able to submit names for the international wanted persons list.

Supporting the power of the cooperation between Turkey and Interpol, Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock met with Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu in June to identify areas for increased cooperation in combating terrorism. Stock stressed the world police body's ongoing commitment to the country's efforts to address this national and global security threat, especially as far as the county being a transit hub for returning foreign terrorist fighters

According to the Interpol website, the Interpol National Central Bureau (NCB), as one of the first and oldest NCBs of Interpol, Interpol Ankara, which was created in 1930, is part of the Central Directorate of the Turkish National Police and is housed at the Police headquarters in Ankara. It is also written on the website that "[a]ll Turkish investigations with an international connection are carried out by Interpol Ankara in coordination with the Turkish Justice Ministry and partner law enforcement agencies in Turkey."

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