Call it a fatal case of shortsightedness. Back in early October, top officials of the Turkish intelligence service, MIT, sat down with several of their Western counterparts to discuss the number one terrorist threat facing Turkey – the heads of the Kurdish PKK-KADEK group, Abdullah Ocalan, captured in 1999 and serving a life sentence as the sole inmate of a remote island prison since his death sentence was commuted last year, and his brother Osama. Together they control 5,000 Kurdish fighters scattered across northern Iraqi Kurdistan and southern Turkey.
(The intelligence chiefs convened mainly because at the time, the US government viewed Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq as a threat to key transportation routes and planned to root them out. Washington also believed an attack against Kurdish forces would weaken the bargaining position of the other two top Kurdish leaders in the area, Jalal Talabani and Mustapha Barzani).
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terrorism sources, PKK-KADEK topped the list of what Turkey regarded as the 10 most dangerous terrorist organizations laid before Western colleagues.
A group called the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders Front (IBDA-C) was last on the list.
“Don’t you think they should be ranked higher,” a senior Western intelligence official asked his Turkish colleagues.
“No. I can give you my personal guarantee that this organization is toothless. It can’t do anything. All its members are sitting in our Metsian jail,” a top MIT man replied.
He was referring to some 300 members of the group, including its leader, Salih Mirzabeyogly. Arrested on December 24, 1998, Mirzabeyogly was put into solitary confinement and the rest of his men were thrown into the dungeon-like cells of the prison, some 50 miles (80 km) south of Istanbul.
On Saturday, November 15, IBDA-C detonated truck bombs outside the Neve Shalom and Beit Israel synagogues in Istanbul, killing 25 people and wounding more than 300. The attack’s planners and chief bomb-maker left the country via Istanbul international airport three hours before the blast. Their destination: Abu Dhabi, where they apparently caught a flight to Iran or Pakistan.
Just five days after the synagogue bombing disaster, IBDA-C struck again. This time, two truck bombs exploded outside the British consulate in Istanbul, the headquarters of the HSBC bank and the Metro Center mall in the north of the city. At least 27 people were killed and about 450 wounded.
In the space of six days, the “toothless” terrorist group managed to kill 52 people and wound more than 750.
Adding insult to injury, IBDA-C carried out Thursday’s attack to coincide with President George W. Bush’s visit to London, declaring the bombings were “a gift to Al Qaeda”.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources note the relationship between the two terrorist groups is relatively new, dating back only three to four years. After Mirzabeyoglu and his men were arrested in 1998, about 50 to 70 members of the organization managed to flee Turkey for Afghanistan, Chechnya, Greece, Bosnia and Germany. Some of the Turkish terrorists teamed up with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Chechnya and fought alongside Osama bin Laden’s men. Other IBDA-C members underwent training in Bosnia, while those who escaped to Greece came under the wing of local intelligence officers who, back in the 1980s when Greek-Turkish tensions were high, had used the organization for sabotage missions in Turkey.
In Germany, the IBDA-C fugitives set up logistical and intelligence networks to support members of the group working with Al Qaeda.
Far from the prying eyes of Turkish security services and Western counter-terrorism agencies, IBDA-C and Al Qaeda established one of Europe’s most dangerous terrorist networks.
IBDA-C followed Thursday’s attacks against British targets in Istanbul with an ominous warning: “This is just the beginning.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-intelligence sources have learned that a high state of alert for terrorist attacks has been declared in Germany and Britain, where Bush is still visiting. Both countries fear that the Turkish terrorists will activate their sleeper networks in Germany and that some had transferred recently to Britain. IBDA-C operatives are Turkish Kurds who can easily blend into Europe’s large Kurdish population.
Despite its cooperation with Al Qaeda, IBDA-C is very different from the fundamentalist Islamic group. Although it is comprised of Muslims, the group espouses the Trotskyite version of communism. Mirzabeyoglu, a professional boxer in his youth, has written 42 books, including “Diary of a Fox” – compulsory reading for all new recruits who are required to memorize it. The terrorist-boxer-author has described his doctrine as a mixture of Plato, Hegel, Trotsky and Sufi Islam, the last based on the belief that there is no real difference between good and evil and that Allah determines the will of man. The Sufi sect is particularly strong among Kurds and in Turkey, making that country a fertile ground for the IBDA-C.
Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri have little use for the IBDA-C’s philosophy. It is just one more fringe organization under the radar and at their beck and call. Their willingness to use the group points again to their operational flexibility and shows how little Western intelligence services really know about what is happening in the labyrinth of Islamic terror.