Berlin paper links Erdogan to Islamist terror groups

Report set to anger Turkish president and pile pressure on Angela Merkel

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressing supporters in Ankara last week. The German ministry paper links him directly to what the EU views as terrorist organisations. Photograph: Kayhan Ozer/AFP/Getty Images

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressing supporters in Ankara last week. The German ministry paper links him directly to what the EU views as terrorist organisations. Photograph: Kayhan Ozer/AFP/Getty Images

 

Berlin is braced for the worst after a leaked policy paper described Turkey as a “central platform for Islamist and other terrorist organisations”.

The forthright and critical assessment of Turkish policy came in a written reply from the federal interior ministry to a parliamentary question posed by the opposition Left Party. Though marked confidential, it was leaked to public broadcaster ARD on Tuesday afternoon and is likely to add further cracks to strained Berlin-Ankara relations.

“As result of Ankara’s gradually Islamised domestic and foreign policy since 2011, Turkey has developed into a central action platform for Islamist groups in near and middle east regions,” wrote Ole Schröder, state secretary in the federal interior ministry, according to ARD, in a paper dated August 10th.

“The countless expressions of solidarity and supporting actions of the ruling AKP and President Erdogan for the Egyptian MB [Muslim Brotherhood], Hamas and armed Islamist opposition groups in Syria underline their ideological affinity to their Muslim brothers.”

On the one hand, the paper’s outspoken conclusions merely put in writing what senior German and European officials have admitted for years off the record. But having such a critical assessment in black and white, drawing on information from Germany’s BND foreign intelligence, is likely to spark a strong reaction from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It also piles pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel. Despite growing international criticism of the Turkish leader, Dr Merkel has been sparing in her criticism for fear of endangering a refugee swap deal she pushed last March with Ankara. She has remained restrained in her remarks even as others call into question the deal’s condition of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens into the EU.

Death penalty

Mr Erdogan has accused European leaders of being slow to condemn last month’s attempted coup and singled out Germany for particular criticism after authorities refused him permission to deliver a live video address of the Turkish leader at a pro-Erdogan demonstration in Cologne.

The leaked paper is particularly explosive as it not only links Mr Erdogan personally – he is named repeatedly in block capitals – to recent controversial policy shifts in Turkey, it also links him directly to what the EU views as terrorist organisations.

The paper explains how Ankara views Hamas as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, though it is viewed by the EU and US as a terrorist organisation. The paper notes how Mr Erdogan, as prime minister, gave a warm welcome to leading Hamas figure Ismael Hanija. Similar meetings took place as recently as June.

Ankara also offers medical treatment for Islamist fighters in Syria, while oil from Islamic State-controlled regions has been exported via Turkey. EU governments have long been alarmed at reports that Isis fighters have passed through Turkey into Europe, including at least three of the men behind last November’s Paris attacks.

Confidentiality warning

Now that it has leaked, Berlin officials are bracing themselves for the worst.

Dr Merkel’s grand coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), distanced themselves from the assessment and criticised the interior ministry for not drawing on the expertise of the SPD-controlled foreign ministry.

“With such a sensitive and far-reaching assessment, the foreign ministry should have been involved,” said Rolf Mützenich, SPD foreign policy spokesman. “After all with Turkey we’re dealing with a Nato member where German soldiers are currently stationed.”

The opposition Left Party said the leaked paper exposed the hypocrisy at the heart of Berlin’s relationship with Ankara and demanded a “radical shift” in policy. Along with the Green Party, the Left Party has been a long-standing critic of the refugee swap deal, saying it leaves Berlin and the EU open to Turkish blackmail.

Left Party foreign policy spokeswoman Sevim Dagdelen, whose question prompted the answer, attacked Dr Merkel’s government for “describing the terror godfather Erdogan as a partner while, internally, warning of Turkey as a hub of armed Islamist violence”.

Opposition Free Democratic Party leader Christian Lindner demanded clarity from the federal government, saying it was pointless to negotiate with a country about EU membership “that, at the same time, is strengthening those who want to destroy our European values”.