The void left by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s purge of tens of thousands of soldiers and security agents following July’s attempted coup has been partly filled by Islamists, an Arab intelligence official said.
Following the attempt to oust him, Erdogan overhauled the defense establishment, replacing suspected rivals with people loyal to his AKP party. However, the official said, some hail from radical Islamic groups.
The official spoke as the assassin of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was identified as Mevlut Mert Altintas, a 22-year old off-duty officer who had worked for the Ankara riot police.
The official said it was clear that after Erdogan’s purges that Islamist elements would exploit the disorder and confusion to install their loyalists in executive positions in the army, police, military intelligence and other special units.
“Last September, Turkish officials present at the joint opposition coordination headquarters in Jordan were given intelligence assessments that radical Islamists reached top positions within the Turkish defense establishment. They rebuffed these assessments, as well as claims that Ankara continues to turn a blind eye to the activities of organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and Islamic State who work under the guise of charity organizations who assist Syrian refugees. They claimed that they operated under the close supervision of the Turkish authorities. It now emerges that none of that was true. Ankara is obsessed with the Kurdish groups and pays little attention to other subversive circles.”
He said that many of the Turkish army’s partners in its anti-Kurd campaign in northern Syria are radical Islamists.
“Their collaboration with the Turkish army gives these organizations a certain degree of freedom within Turkey, like treatment in Turkish hospitals and family visits in refugee camps along the border,” he continued. “And this freedom is exploited by the extremists, some acting alone, for the purposes of recruitment and terrorist activity. Erdogan and his agencies focus on the Kurds and neglect the Islamists who successfully reach out to many young Turks and refugees. Unfortunately, Turkey is on a slippery slope.”