2 Turks Arrested in Malaysia Have Islamic State Links: Deputy PM

Hata Wahari and N. Natha
2017.05.04
Kuala Lumpur
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170504-MY-turks-620.jpg Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak review an honor guard upon Najib’s arrival in Ankara, April 17, 2014.
[AFP]

Malaysian authorities are investigating two Turkish citizens in custody for suspected links to the Islamic State terrorist group, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Thursday.

Turgay Karaman and Ihsan Aslan, whose arrests were announced a day earlier, are being investigated for allegations of helping to fund IS and are being held under an anti-terror law that allows authorities to hold suspects for 28 days without charge, Zahid told reporters in Putrajaya.

Zahid, who is also Malaysia’s home minister, said the two Turks had been under police surveillance and were arrested under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012, also known as SOSMA.

“The anti-terrorism unit under the police’s special branch has been closely following the movements of several individuals involved in the spreading of influence and the funding of activities related to Daesh,” Zahid said, using another name for IS.

Zahid gave more details about the arrests, a day after Human Rights Watch raised concerns about the prospect of the Turkish citizens being arrested and tortured if Malaysia deported them to their home country. Karaman is a principal at an international school in the Malaysian state of Perak, and Aslan is a businessman who also lives in Malaysia.

“The Malaysian police Counter Messaging Center intercepted communications, which had links to Daesh (IS), by both men,” Zahid said.

“We had followed the movements of some individuals who are involved in spreading and providing funds to IS-related activities, including two Turkish citizens,” the deputy prime minister added, without elaborating.

He promised humane treatment for the detainees.

“Do not worry,” he said, “we will not oppress anyone if they are not involved or their levels of involvement are minimal.” But he added: “if there is strong evidence, detention will be made in accordance with existing legislation and we will confirm with Turkish authorities.”

Separately, Malaysian Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the arrests were made without any pressure from the Turkish government.

“No, no. There is no request from anybody,” he said. “It is due to their own wrongdoing.”

Khalid declined to give details on the men’s alleged IS links.

“I do not want to talk much,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. “We do not welcome people who are causing problems here. We do not welcome foreigners here to cause any problem to our people and our country.”

He also did not respond to questions about whether the pair would be deported.

Commenting on the case of the Turks who had been reported missing earlier in the week, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, urged Malaysian authorities to make sure that “under no circumstances” they be “forcibly removed from Malaysia and sent to Turkey.”

“There is little doubt that if they are returned to Turkey, they will face torture in detention, and if charged with crimes there, be subjected to a trial that will fall far short of fair trial standards,” he said.

Other IS suspects

The Turks’ arrests were among several arrests in Malaysia of people with suspected links to IS that were announced this week.

Police on Wednesday publicized the arrests of six Malaysians with suspected ties to IS, who were taken into custody through counter-terrorist operations launched in several states from late March to late April. A seventh suspect with IS links fled to neighboring Thailand, police said.

The six suspects in custody are also being held under SOSMA, according to Khalid, the police inspector-general. Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested at least 300 people suspected of having links to the Middle East-based terror group, of whom 66 have since been freed, according to the latest figures obtained from the government by BenarNews.

Connections to Gülen?

On Wednesday, Khalid broke the news about the arrests of the two Turks, saying in a message posted on Twitter that they were picked up “because they threatened the security of Malaysia.”

But he was not more specific.

The wives of the Turks denied the allegations.

“They have never hurt anyone,” the Star newspaper quoted Ayse Gul Karaman, the 38-year-old wife of Karaman, as saying Thursday.

Anadolu, the Turkish state news agency, said the pair was believed to be linked to U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who faces accusations of organizing a failed coup in Turkey last year.

Gülen, whose Hizmet movement runs about 2,000 educational establishments around the world, lives in exile in the United States. His movement has been branded a terrorist organization by the government of President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan. It has accused Gülen of being behind an attempted coup in July 2016, during which 265 people, including 161 civilians, were killed.

Forces loyal to Erdogan quickly crushed the putsch as he declared a state of emergency and ordered troops to detain thousands of people accused of involvement in the bid to overthrow him. The crackdown included Gülen’s alleged supporters.

Gülen has gone on the record to condemn terrorism committed by IS.

“I deplore the brutal atrocities being committed by the ISIS terrorist group hiding behind a false religious rhetoric …,” the cleric said, referring to IS by a different acronym, after the group disseminated an online video showing the beheading in 2014 of captured American journalist James Foley.

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