The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief was established in Turkey in 1992 by a member of the Turkish Refah Party, and was formally registered in Istanbul three years later. Better known by its Turkish name (Insani Yardim Vakfi) and acronym (IHH), the Foundation’s initial mission was to supply aid to Bosnian Muslims during their conflict with Christian Serbs in the Yugoslavian civil war. To this day, IHH continues to send aid to distressed areas throughout the Middle East – in the form of food, medicine, vocational education, and the construction of schools, hospitals, medical clinics, and mosques. According to Reuters, IHH “has been involved in aid missions in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Indonesia, Iraq, Palestinian territories and other places.” In recent years, IHH has also established branch offices in a number of European countries.
While IHH is involved in the aforementioned humanitarian activities, its overall objectives are much broader. Belying the dove of peace whose image appears on its logo, the organization overtly supports Hamas, is sympathetic to al Qaeda, and maintained contact with al Qaeda cells and the Sunni insurgency during the Iraq War.
In the mid-1990s, IHH leader Bülent Yildirim was directly involved in recruiting “veteran soldiers” to organize jihad activities, and in dispatching IHH operatives to war zones in Islamic countries to gain combat experience. IHH also transferred money as well as “caches of firearms, knives and pre-fabricated explosives” to Muslim fighters in those countries.
A 1996 examination of IHH telephone records showed that repeated calls had been made to an al Qaeda guest house in Milan and to Algerian terrorists operating in Europe. That same year, the U.S. government identified IHH as having connections to extremist groups in Iran and Algeria.
In December 1997, Turkish authorities, acting on a tip from sources claiming that IHH leaders had purchased automatic weapons from other regional Islamic militant groups, initiated a domestic criminal investigation of IHH. A thorough search of IHH’s Istanbul bureau uncovered a large assortment of firearms, explosives, bomb-making instructions, and a “jihad flag.” Moreover, Turkish authorities seized a host of IHH documents whose contents ultimately led investigators to conclude that the organization’s members “were going to fight in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya.”
During the April 2001 trial of would-be “millennium bomber” Ahmed Ressam, it was revealed that IHH had played an “important role” in the plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999.
In December 2004 IHH organized an anti-American march in Istanbul, demanding an end to cooperation between American, British and Turkish intelligence agencies. The demonstration featured such slogans as “Murderer sent by the murderous United States, get out of the Middle East,” and “Long live the resistance.”
According to a report issued by a website close to Israeli military intelligence: “[S]ince Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, IHH has supported Hamas’ propaganda campaigns by organizing public support conferences in Turkey.” The report also states that IHH continues to operate widely throughout Gaza and to funnel large sums of money to support the Hamas infrastructure.
Carnegie Endowment analyst Henri Barkey one described IHH as “an Islamist organization” that “has been deeply involved with Hamas for some time.” A 2006 report by the Danish Institute for International Studies characterized IHH as one of many “charitable front groups that provide support to al Qaeda” and the global jihad.
In January 2008 an IHH delegation met with Ahmed Bahar, chairman of Hamas’ council in the Gaza Strip. At the meeting, the delegation revealed the extent of the aid it had given Hamas during the preceding year and declared its intent to double that sum in the future.
In 2008 Israel banned IHH from the country because of the organization’s membership in the “Union of Good” (UG), a Hamas-founded umbrella coalition comprised of more than 50 Islamic charities (most of which are associated with the global Muslim Brotherhood) that channel money and goods to Hamas-affiliated institutions. UG is headed by Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi. In December 2008, the U.S. government designated UG as a terrorist entity that was guilty of “diverting” donations that were intended for “social welfare and other charitable services,” and using those funds “to strengthen Hamas’ political and military position.”
In November 2009 IHH activist Izzat Shahin transferred tens of thousands of American dollars from IHH to the Islamic Charitable Society (in Hebron) and Al-Tadhamun (in Nablus), two of Hamas’ most important front groups posing as “charitable societies.”
In early 2010, IHH collaborated with the Free Gaza Movement to organize a six-ship flotilla of Muslim and anti-Israel activists who would sail (from points in Greece, Crete, Ireland, and Turkey) to Gaza for the purpose of breaking Israel’s naval blockade (which had been established to prevent Hamas from importing weaponry from Iran and other allies abroad). IHH personnel operated the Mavi Marmara, the flotilla’s lead ship. (On April 7, 2010, IHH leader Bülent Yildirim had told a press conference in Istanbul that the forthcoming flotilla would represent a “test” for Israel. He warned that Israeli opposition to the initiative would be viewed as “a declaration of war” against the countries whose activists were aboard the ships.)
The flotilla embarked on its journey toward Gaza in late May of 2010. For several days, Israel issued warnings that the ships would not be permitted to reach Gaza without first submitting to an inspection of their cargoes. But the crews of the vessels refused to comply; thus Israeli commandos intercepted the flotilla in the early morning hours of May 31. The IHH-affiliated activists on the Mavi Marmara responded violently, attacking the commandos with knives, clubs and pistol fire. In the melee that ensued, nine activists were killed and seven Israeli soldiers were wounded.
Caroline Glick, the deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, subsequently wrote:
“As the U.S. government, the Turkish government in the 1990s, the Investigative Project on Terrorism and countless other sources have proven, IHH is a terrorist organization with direct links to al-Qaida and Hamas. Its members have been involved in terrorist warfare from Chechnya and Bosnia to Iraq and Israel.”