“Recently, it has been witnessed that the terrorist organization has intensified its campaign through Iran, and Iran has not been paying much attention to security measures, especially in border areas [to thwart their movements],” Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin has said.
In an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman, Şahin explained that the PKK and its umbrella organization, the Kurdistan Communities' Union (KCK), are using Iran as a base for sanctuary and as a site for transit, training and indoctrination, recruitment, fund-raising and the supply of arms and munitions.
“Intelligence was received indicating that the Şehidan camp, which is located at Şehidan Mountain across the border from Hakkari province, where Iran had denied access to the terrorist organization in the past, has again become operational and that terrorist members who were injured during operations [conducted by Turkish security forces] were being treated in Iranian state hospitals near the border area,” Şahin complained.
He noted that PKK terrorists are operating in Iranian territory with much ease in sharp contrast to the past, stressing that they are not facing any problems whatsoever in finding safe haven, obtaining logistical support and using Iranian soil as a transit route to Turkey. “Reports have been received stating that members of the terrorist organization are using vacated Iranian military posts,” Şahin stated.
He also said security agencies identified checkpoints in Iran close to the Turkish border that the PKK is using to extort money from drug trafficking, human trafficking, and oil and cigarette smuggling as well as to transfer militants and explosives.
The minister also noted that the PKK/KCK is increasingly using Iran to evade sweeping operations by Turkish security forces and aerial bombardment of PKK hideouts in northern Iraq. Şahin revealed that the government estimates some 400 armed militants in the PKK who are operating in Turkey were not born here but in fact came from Syria, Iran and Iraq.
Talking about the financing of the terror organization, Interior Minister Şahin said the PKK raises funds in European countries as well as earning money from extortion from legitimate businesses and illegal activities like drug smuggling in border areas in the southeast of Turkey. “The organization receives some 20 million euros annually in fundraising campaigns across Europe,” he said, adding that the money was used to purchase arms and explosives in Iraq and Syria, where there is a power vacuum.
“We have been informed recently that a significant amount of arms and explosives that used to belong to the Syrian army was handed over to this separatist organization [PKK] because of what is happening in Syria,” Şahin remarked.
He said the police have determined that militants and explosives were of Syrian origin in three terror incidents. One was the explosion of a car bomb near a police station at Pınarbaşı in Turkey's central Kayseri province in May that killed one police officer and wounded 18 others. The second was a deadly attack on a military convoy in the Foça district of İzmir in August that resulted in the deaths of two Turkish soldiers. The latest incident was in August, when explosives packed into a truck parked near a police station were detonated in the southeastern city Gaziantep, killing nine people and wounding 60.
Germany as uncooperative partner in terror
The Turkish minister also lambasted Germany for being uncooperative in the extradition of wanted PKK terrorists living in Germany.
“Generally, Germany leads the list of countries that refuse to extradite wanted people to Turkey for terror-related charges, followed by Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands,” Şahin said, providing statistical data on the top five jurisdictions that are uncooperative and unresponsive to Turkey's demands. Accordingly, Germany's refusal to extradite people amounted to 53 percent in the tally of totally rejected demands in the last two decades, while Switzerland was at 13 percent, followed by Belgium with 8 percent, the Netherlands with 4 percent and France with 3 percent.
In the last 20 years, only 18 PKK/KCK terrorists have been transferred to Turkey, Şahin announced, with Azerbaijan being the most cooperative country in this regard, with five of them extradited to Turkey. Of the 18, three were sent to Turkey from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), two from Kazakhstan, two from Germany, two from Romania, one from Turkmenistan, one from the Netherlands, one from Ukraine and one from Russia.
The Turkish interior minister noted that the government is under the impression that these countries, especially Germany, are protecting terrorists by granting citizenship and political asylum/refugee status and refusing to extradite them on the basis of these statuses.
“Prior to 2005, our extradition requests were denied on the basis of the existence of capital punishment in Turkey. After the banning of the death penalty, especially Germany, referring to a 2010 decision by the German Constitutional Court, refused our extradition requests based on ‘aggravated life sentences' and added a new reason to reject our demands,” Şahin complained. He emphasized that political considerations played a significant role in the rejection of these demands, but he said there is a noticeable effort on the part of these countries to try to mask these political motivations behind legal arguments.
KCK operations to continue
The interior minister defended the KCK operations as crucial in the defense of the nation's security against terrorism, saying that the government cannot ignore what he described as a sort of coup attempt by the vicious terror organization. “The KCK has now lost its importance in the national agenda. This is the achievement of the Turkish state and the joint accomplishment of all the relevant authorities, including our security forces. Turkey and the existence of the Turkish state as well as its [territorial] integrity have been protected from a threat and danger.”
Describing the PKK/KCK as a destructive force that has done nothing to improve the lives of Kurdish people in Turkey, Şahin said the terrorist organization is good at destroying everything with the exception of planting cannabis in Turkey's Southeast. “They are very well-organized in the planting of cannabis. They are making money on its trade. Over a billion dollars has been earned from the growing and trading of cannabis [by the PKK],” he said.
“They are poisoning young people and killing them via these drugs,” Şahin added.
Şahin also criticized Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies who claim that there is no democracy or freedom in Turkey. He said these deputies could say anything and everything in Turkey, including in Parliament in the nation's capital. The minister said nobody is interfering with the free speech of BDP deputies as long as there is no association with violence. “This is our criterion. You can dream all you want, speak all you want or think what you want. However, do not hurt anybody and do not let the blood spill,” he remarked.
The Turkish interior minister also signaled that sweeping operations against the PKK and other terror groups would continue unabated. He criticized past policies of waiting for the terror groups to attack before launching security operations, especially in the harsh winter period, saying that the state of no attacks means the terror organization is gathering its strength while shoring up its logistics and manpower. “The fight against terror requires the implementation of a proactive strategy without waiting for a terror attack,” he said, vowing that the government will go after terrorists until the terror organization is crippled to the extent that it cannot mount any attack.
“This is not only my view [on this issue] but is also the state view,” he added. Şahin stated the government has an obligation to protect its citizens from terror and underlined that the fight against terror is being conducted with due respect to the law.
Al-Qaeda is threat to Turkey
Turkish Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin stated that the country's fight against terror is not just limited to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)/Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), stressing that terror organizations exploiting the region are also under government surveillance. Şahin cited the activities of the al-Qaeda terror organization in this context as the most serious threat.
“This terror organization [al-Qaeda], which has increased its threats and activities against our country in recent times, is being closely monitored by security forces, and no opportunity has been allowed for its provocative attacks to take place using pre-emptive intelligence operations [by security forces],” Şahin explained.
He said the country has not forgotten seven police officers and more than 60 citizens who were killed by al-Qaeda terrorist attacks, especially recalling the 2003 simultaneous suicide attacks in İstanbul that claimed the lives of 58 people and the police officers. Şahin stated that the police seized 600 kilograms of explosives last year, foiling a planned terror attack by al-Qaeda. In 2012 alone, he said, police arrested 254 people in various operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliate groups, resulting in the incarceration of 79 suspects.
“Our conclusion is that al-Qaeda is still a threat to our country, and our efforts [to fight with it] are continuing with due diligence,” Şahin remarked.