Targeted by Israeli raid: Who is the IHH?

The Freedom Flotilla boat targeted by an Israeli raid Monday held many activists from the IHH. The Turkish aid group has been accused of having jihadi links in the mid-1990s.

By , Correspondent

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    Turkish and International activists, wearing life jackets, pose onboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara as they sail in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea as part of a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip Sunday.
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A Turkish charity known IHH has found itself at the center of an international controversy over a fatal Israeli raid on a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

Several of IHH's members were killed when Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, a member of the self-described Gaza Freedom Flotilla, carrying the bulk of 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid the Strip. The IHH has been accused by Israel of funneling support to militant organizations across the Muslim world, a charge the group denies.

“Our president and our committee are currently arrested in Gaza so it’s too early to talk about going back but of course we’ll always continue to try breaking the embargo to get aid through,” says Fatma Varol, a volunteer with the organization speaking from its headquarters in Istanbul. The group's official name is Insani Yardim Vakfi.

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IN PICTURES: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid

Greta Berlin, the co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement that has organized the previous eight attempts to deliver aid to Gaza, also vowed to press on.

“Our mission [to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza] has not changed and this is not going to be the last flotilla,” said Ms. Berlin.

A ship named Rachel Corrie after the American activist killed in Israel in 2003, and another American ship, both carrying fresh aid, are reportedly off the coast of Italy awaiting instructions. United Nations spokeswoman Marie Okabe said that the world body is “following these developments.”

IHH ties to jihadis?

IHH has occasionally been accused of sending money to Islamist fighters in Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan during the 1990s.

A 2006 report by Evan Kohlmann, an author and consultant who closely tracks the propaganda efforts of Al Qaeda and other jihadi groups, linked IHH to fundraising for jihadis headed to Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. In a posting today at the Counterterrorism Blog, Kohlmann says the Turkish government unearthed weapons, explosives, and bombmaking instructions in a 1997 raid. IHH denies that such a raid took place.

Mr. Kohlmann's paper cites a French intelligence report that alleged the group made phone calls to an Al Qaeda boarding house in Milan and Algerian militants in Europe.

In a Seattle trial, one of the authors of the French report, counterterrorism magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere said that IHH had played an "important role" in the Al Qaeda Millenium bomb plot targeting LAX, Los Angeles's main airport.

The IHH is an NGO, but it was kind of a type of cover-up ... in order to obtain forged documents and also to obtain different forms of infiltration for Mujahi-
deen in combat. And also to go and gather[recruit] these Mujahideens.

But Ms. Varol denies any such links.

“IHH was not related to jihadis but formed to help people who need help, such as the Muslims of Bosnia who were suffering from the Serb genocide,” she says. “It’s only a humanitarian aid foundation bringing help to needy people wherever there’s conflict.”

In 2008, Israel became the only country to ban the organization, doing so out of concern about its alleged sympathies with Hamas. The current Turkish government has publicly supported the organization and hinted that it might send an armed escort with the next ship or ships running the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

'This is like 9/11 for Turkey'

Israeli authorities published images Tuesday showing some of the makeshift weapons used by the Turkish crew to attack Israeli soldiers rappelling from helicopters onto the Mavi Marmara boat. Among them were metal poles, bottles filled with marbles, knives, and flares. Some passengers protected themselves from the teargas deployed by Israeli troops with gas masks. Israeli commandos said that they had been fired by activists with rifles.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmey Davutoglu, the architect of Turkey's "zero problems with neighbors" foreign policy, compared the Israeli attack to the Sept. 11 attacks on the US.

“Psychologically, this attack is like 9/11 for Turkey because Turkish citizens were attacked by a state, not by terrorists, with an intention, a clear decision of political leaders of that state,” he said, speaking Tuesday during a visit to Washington.

IHH President Bulent Yildirim was on board the Mavi Marmara and is currently detained in Israel, according to IHH staff in Istanbul. He visited Gaza in the aftermath of the Gaza war to attend the opening of the local IHH office and address a public rally in the company of Hamas officials.

Aside from its headquarters in Istanbul, the organization also has offices in Germany and works with charities in more than one hundred other countries. Under Mr. Davutoglu’s direction, Turkey engaged with Hamas, alienating allies Israel and Egypt.

IN PICTURES: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid

Related:

Israeli raid on Freedom Flotilla shatters key Turkey-Israel ties
Why Israelis are upset about Israeli raid on Gaza freedom flotilla
Full Freedom Flotilla coverage

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