Times Online: Turkish charity that sent aid convoy to Gaza ‘has links to terrorism’
The Turkish charity at the centre of the raid by Israeli forces on an aid vessel in the Mediterranean was under intense scrutiny last night over its alleged links with militant organisations.
Despite their claims to be an entirely peaceful organisation, The Foundation for Human Rights, Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) has a history of involvement in Islamic extremism around the world and has been linked with an attempted bombing of an airport in the US.
The charity had 40 members on the Turkish-owned ship Mavi Marmara when it was boarded by Israeli Navy commandos on Monday. Nine people died in the operation.
Israeli security sources said that about 40 people set upon their commandos as they abseiled from a helicopter on to the upper deck of the ship, armed primarily with paintball guns intended for use in crowd control. The troops found themselves facing a crowd armed with metal pipes, knives and stun grenades.
The activists tied the rope used by the soldiers to a railing on the ship, in the hope of bringing down the helicopter, officials said - forcing the commander to cut the rope and leave four commandos on the deck below.
Security sources said that the assailants used a saw to cut metal bars from the ship's railings.
The IHH, which Israel says has links with the Palestinian group Hamas, first gained attention in the 1990s. Jean-Louis Bruguière, a French investigating magistrate and an authority on counter-terrorism, has said that in the mid-1990s the group's leader, Bulent Yildirim, made efforts to "recruit veteran soldiers in anticipation of the coming holy war. In particular, some men were sent into war zones in Muslim countries in order to acquire combat experience".
Mr Bruguière testified at the US trial of Ahmed Ressam, dubbed the Millennium Bomber, that the IHH had played an important role in a failed plot to bomb Los Angeles airport.
A 2006 report by the Danish Institute for International Studies described the group as a front for funding terrorist organisations and sending Mujahidin to fight in countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya. The IHH, which is not on US or European terrorist lists, denies accusations of ties to terrorist groups.
The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre (ITIC) - an Israel-based NGO with close ties to the country's military - does not dispute the IHH's legitimate philanthropic activities, but it says it is an overt supporter of Hamas, branded by Israel, the EU and US as a terrorist organisation. The ITIC says it has evidence that the IHH has helped to provide weapons and funds for Islamic terrorist groups in the Middle East.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth said that some security officials believed there was a link between the ship, which was purchased for the trip by the IHH, and Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK).
The IHH had been unable to charter a ship for the risky voyage, and had resorted to buying the Mavi Marmara for €900,000 (£750,000); money it said it had raised from its members in Turkey. It also bought the 10,000 tonnes of aid intended for Gaza, including electric wheelchairs and pre-fabricated houses.
General Richard Myers, former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Times yesterday that there was substantial evidence of some charitable organisations being exploited by extremist groups for their own ends. "A lot of wealthy benefactors providing donations for humanitarian relief don't know what they're funding. They think they're doing something for welfare and education," he said.
As Israel began deporting hundreds of foreign activists detained when its commandos stormed the Gaza aid flotilla, fresh details emerged yesterday of the group's preparations for the raid.
According to reports in the Israeli press, some of the men who tackled the commandos were equipped with night-vision goggles, gas masks and life vests. Others had ceramic vests to stop bullets, security officials said.
About a hundred of the passengers were carrying wads of $10,000 on them - a total of about $1 million; money the authorities say was bound for Hamas, which controls Gaza.
Vahdettin Kaygan, a spokesman for IHH, denied accusations that it had links with militant Islamist groups and said that it operated as a charity in 120 countries around the world. It was set up in 1992 to help Bosnian Muslims and had carried out missions in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Indonesia and Iraq, as well as running previous aid ships to Gaza.
"We don't have anything against Israel. Our only aim was to carry aid to the people of Gaza. But for Israel, regardless of your religion or your nationality, if you help the people of Gaza you will be declared a terrorist," the IHH said in a statement.
All 37 British citizens detained by Israeli forces during the raid were released without charge yesterday. Israel said last night that 527 activists had left the country.
The Britons, who had been held in a detention centre in Beersheba since their arrest on Monday, were taken to Ben Gurion airport yesterday afternoon and flown to Turkey. Most of them are expected to arrive in London this morning.
Source: Times Online