I’ve written about the Turkish passport mystery—in which suspected Uyghur refugees somehow came into possession of Turkish passports, presumably high-tech, smart chip passports encrypted by a Turkish government agency that are so flawless that Asian governments have been unable to confirm their suspicions that their detainees are indeed Uyghurs fleeing the PRC—in a couple posts:Curtain Coming Down on Erdogan’s Excellent Uyghur Adventure? And Passport-Gate: Turkey’s Brewing Uyghur Passport Scandal .
Here are a couple more news items torn from the headlines that provide some interesting perspectives.
The first piece comes from the Benar News, April 9, 2015, and addresses the most sensitive case, that of four individuals detained in Indonesia and suspected of being a) Uyghurs b) terrorist-tourists c) fugitives involved in the 2014 Kunming railroad station massacre that claimed 33 lives. (I discussed the developing case in my February Passport-Gate piece):
Note the interesting tapdancing by the suspects’ lawyer & the Turkish consulate. Seems to me Turkey wants to encourage the inference that the four are genuine Turkish citizen so they can go to Turkey and the whole embarrassing story disappears. But the consulate can’t bring itself either to confirm…or deny. Since the PRC suspects that these are not just Uyghur refugees, but are Uyghur fugitives implicated in the Kunming attack that have to go back to China—and Indonesia seems to agree—the odds of Turkey getting the four don’t look good.
A lawyer defending four Uyghurs in a terrorism trial in Jakarta says they are Turkish citizens, although Indonesia has indicated that it might send them to China afterward.
The four, arrested in Central Sulawesi province last September, stand accused of travelling there to visit Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist, Santoso, and of using fake Turkish passports and visas to enter the country.
China has not intervened in the case of the four men, attorney Asludin Hatjani told BenarNews this week, when asked about Beijing’s involvement. Indonesian officials believe that these Uyghurs come from China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
“China has nothing to do with it, because the documents they have state that they are Turkish citizens. And they are recognized by the Turkish government. The proof is that the Turkish government has provided translators,” said Asludin, who had defended Bali bomber Umar Patek at his trial in 2012.
“In Indonesia, terrorism is handled through law enforcement. If they are not guilty, they must be released. If they are guilty, it has to be proven,” he said.
“Regarding the immigration violation, in my view, they have full documentation. It remains to be proven whether it is false or not.”
Officials at the Turkish embassy in Jakarta did not deny Asludin’s claim about his clients beingTurkish citizens.
“You should take into account what the lawyer says. On the other hand, [the Indonesian] Attorney General officially asked the Turkish embassy to provide the translator for the court. So this is what procedure says, and we follow that,” Ambassador Zekeriya Akcam said in a statement sent to BenarNews on Thursday.
“Since the court process is going on, we are not allowed to make any statement except what the court says,” he added. “We trust [the] judiciairy system of [the] Indonesian Republic and cannot make any comment beyond that.”
In mid-March, before the trial got under way, Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) said the four would be deported to China after the trial.
“They will be prosecuted. Once the indictment is completed, they will be returned to China. After that, it’s up to the Chinese government whether they want to detain them, sentence them to death, or free them. It depends on the laws in force there,” BNPT spokesman Irfan Idris told BenarNews then.
China wants the four repatriated, and the BNPT has been working with the Chinese government on the matter, Irfan said.
“We have gone there several times to coordinate with them. They have also visited here. We have agreed to find a good solution,” he said.
According to Indonesian officials, the four suspects were arrested, along with three Indonesians, in Poso regency, a hotbed of militant activity.
The Uyghurs claim they were tourists.
“We just asked someone to take us around. The accusation of wanting to meet with Santoso is false.
We don’t speak Indonesian, so there seems to have been a misunderstanding,” defendant Ahmet Bozoglan told the North Jakarta District Court through a translator on March 31st.
…Chinese officials claim that about 300 Uyghurs from Xinjiang have joined the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group. Earlier on, BNPT officials had said that the four Uyghurs picked up in Poso were suspected of financing travel for Indonesians to join IS.
The four have been charged under anti-terrorism and immigration laws, public prosecutor Dicky Octavian said.
“The four defendants were involved in dangerous activities linked to terrorism in Poso and the Santoso group,” Dicky told BenarNews.
The trial opened March 23 and continued Thursday with testimony from witnesses for the prosecution.
The second piece appeared in Today’s Zaman, April 9, 2015 and is a pretty hot potato concerning an alleged IS passport agency operating out of Turkey:
It’s rather striking for Todays Zaman to print–albeit via citing another outlet—a story that talks about Turkey’s ISIS hanky-panky. But it did so with two pieces today: this one, and another that discusses the MIT [Turkish intelligence] arms-to-IS smuggling accusations that Iranian-American journalist Serena Shim was looking into when she died under suspicious circumstances. Interesting to speculate why TZ is becoming bolder, and how that will play out.
Anyway, some of this Uyghur story looks absurd: there are only 11 million Uyghurs worldwide, of whom 50,000 reportedly reside in Turkey. So I’m not going to take very seriously the statement that the Turkish government has funneled 50,000 Uyghurs into IS. But the idea that the Turkish government has charged some local outfit with recruiting militants, part of this operation involves providing burner passports for the militants to make it into Turkey and go on to Syria, and the recruiting network might be collecting Uyghurs, has a strong whiff of plausability.
By “burner” I mean the passports may be flawless passports suitable for international travel but the intention is to provide single use travel documents that are flagged for Turkish immigration and confiscated when the militants show up at the border. That way the danger of said militants scampering into Europe—which accepts Turkish documents and safeguards in its passport regime—is theoretically eliminated, and the Turkish government can more easily control the militants, who are without international travel documents and basically trapped in Syria and Turkey.
I also will speculate that Turkey is taking a page from Saudi Arabia’s exploitation of Al Qaeda and other Islamist Arab militants, and is seeking to create a murderous proxy force of Turkic-speaking militants in order for Erdogan, a prickly and recklessly egotistical supremo, to be able to boast he has his own gang of bespoke murderers to do mischief and project power in the region.
With all due respect to Turkish intelligence, I would not be at all surprised if this system broke down when a candidate militant—or Uyghur fugitives perhaps implicated in the Kunming railroad massacre, as the Indonesian bunch is—might agree to enter into the militant program, but renege after getting the passport and scamper off to Malaysia/Indonesia or some other jurisidiction where they can plot the liberation of Xinjiang instead participating in the carnival of massacre that IS has organized in Syria and Iraq (and which operates under the aegis of Turkish intelligence officers who don’t speak Uyghur).
According to a story in the Meydan daily, A.G., an aide of Nurali T., a Uyghur Turk working for ISIL to provide militants with passports worldwide, Nurali T.’s office in İstanbul’s Zeytinburnu district functions as an ISIL passport office. Each passport was sold for $200, A.G. told Meydan.
More than 50,000 Uyghur Turks came to Turkey with these fake passports from China via Thailand and Malaysia and entered Syria after staying a day in İstanbul, Meydan reported. A.G. claimed that most of the Uyghurs with fake passports were caught by police in Turkish airports but they were released in Turkey after their passports were seized. “The Uyghurs’ release in Turkey is due to a secret [little-known] Turkish law on Uyghur Turks. More than 50,000 Uyghurs joined ISIL through this method,” A.G. added.
A.G. further said that Nurali T. organizes recruits from around the world from his İstanbul office. Militants who entered Turkey with these fake passports are hosted either in hotels or guesthouses for a day before they join ISIL in Syria, A.G. said.
One thing that does surprise me is that the intoxicating mix of Uyghurs/China/IS/Turkey/Syria/burner passports/the specter of militants galloping around the EU with perfect Turkish passports/TERRORISTS AT THE GATES OF EUROPE!!! has not attracted the interest of Western journos. Guess it’s just me.