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Iran-backed Tawhid-Salam network targeted NATO radar base in Turkey

Today's Zaman: Operatives of a secretive Iran-backed terrorist network in Turkey scouted the area hosting a radar site in Malatya's Kürecik district that is part of a NATO early warning radar system, an ongoing investigation has revealed. According to an 854-page police investigation on the Tawhid-Salam terror network obtained by Today's Zaman, suspects tied to Iranian intelligence had collected information about Kürecik.

 

Today's Zaman

By Bayram Kaya 

Ankara - Operatives of a secretive Iran-backed terrorist network in Turkey scouted the area hosting a radar site in Malatya's Kürecik district that is part of a NATO early warning radar system, an ongoing investigation has revealed.

According to an 854-page police investigation on the Tawhid-Salam terror network obtained by Today's Zaman, witness testimony provided to the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office on March 22, 2013 indicated that suspects tied to Iranian intelligence had collected information about Kürecik. The witness said many front companies with the cover of legitimate businesses such as real estate agencies or bookstores had been established in Malatya by people with ties to Iran in order to gather intelligence on the NATO radar base.

Iran held the top spot on the list of foreign countries establishing companies in Turkey in 2011, and the number of Iranian-owned firms rose steadily each month in 2012. Observers have repeatedly pointed out concerns in Ankara that some of the Tehran-backed businesses may be front companies set up to finance terrorist activities as well as to circumvent United Nations and United States-sponsored sanctions on Iran.

The Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), an organization that tracks foreign firms, reported that Iranians set up 111 companies in Turkey between January and June of 2014. The number of Iran-funded companies set up in 2013 was 280.

The secret witness was identified in the case file with the code name “Şafak.” He also claimed that some of the protests held about Kürecik were organized by people linked to Iran who the Tawhid-Salam terror network paid in cash for their services.

Turkey hosts an early warning radar system as part of a NATO missile defense system to protect its European allies. The X-band AN/TPY-2 radar was deployed at a military base in Kürecik, and has been operational since January 2012.

The system is designed to prevent an Iranian missile threat, as explicitly stated by US officials on several occasions.

Then-Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan stated in September 2012 in Washington, “We have made no secret of the fact that Iran's missile program is a reason for concern,” referring to the Kürecik radar's potential focus on Iran.

Turkey's decision to host the radar base has strained Turkish-Iranian ties. “We are closely monitoring relations with Turkey in the national security commission in [the Iranian] parliament. Iran has warned Turkey before that the deployment of the system will have grave consequences,” said Hossein Ibrahimi, the vice president of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, in December 2011.

Erdoğan gov't to hush up probe

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, led by political Islamist President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has launched a politically motivated witch hunt against the police investigators who uncovered the Tawhid-Salam network.

Despite the fact that the terror group allegedly has ties to senior government officials, the Erdoğan government wants to hush up the investigation and prevent fallout from the scandal. The police chiefs who worked on the case file for three years were detained on trumped-up charges. But their testimony has revealed more details exposing the structure of terrorist Tawhid-Salam, also known as the Jerusalem Army, which has killed leading intellectuals and attacked Western, Israeli, Arab and other diplomatic targets in Turkey.

The names of a number of Turkish and Iranian suspects, some of whom hold high positions in Erdoğan's government, have been revealed in recent media reports and put the government in a difficult position.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Mahmut Tanal claimed that Erdoğan's government is closely involved with the Tawhid-Salam organization. “The government is part of it [Tawhid-Salam],” he said. He filed an objection to the dismissal of the Tawhid-Salam investigation, dropped by the İstanbul Prosecutor's Office under political pressure.

 Ali Fuat Yılmazer, the former chief of the İstanbul Police Department's intelligence unit, said Tawhid-Salam has penetrated deep into the government, in what amounts to international espionage. He has been detained by the government so that he and others involved in the investigation will keep their mouths shut.

The government has tried to downplay the significance of the serious breach of national security and has scrambled to contain the fallout. Erdoğan called the terror group “fake” and “imaginary” even though the Supreme Court of Appeals has accepted the group as a terrorist network and upheld the convictions of many of its members.

According to the file, Tawhid-Salam has been operating through four independent cells, all of which are directed by Iranian intelligence operatives who report directly to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The investigation also discovered that the terrorist cell had carried out reconnaissance on the US Consulate-General in İstanbul in 2010, seemingly in preparation for an attack on the building. Police seized a detailed surveillance report that indicated a number of empty shops and flats that could be rented to monitor the consulate. The various rental prices of the flats overlooking the entrances to the building were also listed.

During the reconnaissance activity, suspects used rental and municipal vehicles to scout the neighborhood. In the next phase of the investigation of the Tawhid-Salam network, police verified that the suspects' cell phone activity had been recorded on Oct. 5-6, 2010, in the neighborhood of the US Consulate General. For their surveillance activity around the consulate, members of the cell suggested using a minaret near the consulate building as well as renting a flat for TL 800 a month, from which one of them would be able to spy on the building.

Suspects had also drawn up the plans of the Nuclear Research Institute in İstanbul's Halkalı neighborhood and delivered the details to Iranian intelligence.

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