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Illicit Oil Trade between Turkey and the KRG: RedHack Revelations

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The deputy director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) Ahmet Yayla writes that “[i]n late September [2016], a Turkish hacker group, RedHack, released the emails of Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources and the son[-]in[-]law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan [aka the Prez]. Hackers have claimed that they downloaded around 20 gigabytes of data from Albayrak’s email accounts. As the group started to release the emails through social media, controversial issues have been brought to the surface once again. The Turkish government was quick to react, immediately issuing a court order prohibiting the release of the hacked emails and their publication in the media. The issuance of the court order, however, lends credence to the authenticity of the leaked emails. One of the most contentious issues uncovered with the leaked email communications and documents was the transfer of oil controlled by the so[-]called Islamic State and the Erdoğan family’s involvement via a company named Powertrans”.[1]

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Following the Turkish downing of a Russian fighter jet,[2] a war-of-words ensued between Putin and the Prez, and various accusations hurled back and forth: “Vladimir Putin issued [his accusatory] words to the TASS news agency, the Russian state news agency whose pronouncements used to be so prominent during the Soviet and Cold War era. In response, Tayyip Erdoğan told the 15th Meeting of Municipal Headmen the following: ‘[t]hey say that we are in the midst of an effort to Islamize Turkey. Given that 99% of Turkey[‘s population] is Muslim, how can you make such a statement? Tayyip Erdoğan is a Muslim. [As] 99% of Turks.’ The Turkish President, talking about himself in the third person as is his wont, responded to Putin’s words in a facile and arguably jocular manner sure to elicit a favourable response from his audience and garner sympathy among the wider Turkish public breathlessly sucking up his every word appearing on Turkish TV. Putin’s remark was actually part of a much larger accusatory discourse linking Turkey-under-the-AKP to the Islamic State (or IS/ISIS/ISIL) and its illegitimate oil deals and weapon shipments, a charge Erdoğan dismissed in an equally light-hearted manner, saying that ‘ISIS sells the oil it extracts to Assad. [And t]hat is also where it gets its money from'”.[3] Though the Prez dismissed the Russian President’s charges easily, the Turkish hacker cooperative RedHack now seems to have provided proof positive that the Russians weren’t just inventing stories about an illicit oil trade between Raqqa and Ankara. But, as the relations between Moscow and Ankara have taken another turn for the positive, following early Turkish overtures and Russian support for the AKP-led government in the wake of the Coup-that-was-no-coup, talk of illicit oil flowing between Raqqa and Ankara has now all but dried up.[4] In some detail, Yayla explains that “[b]ased on the Russian satellite images, Islamic State oil entered Turkey via three different paths. The western path involved the transfer of oil from Raqqa through Azaz, a city in northwestern Syria, to Iskenderun port on the Mediterranean. The northern path is a busy one, with oil coming from Deir ezZor and transferred to Turkey by tankers. One satellite image from Oct. 18, 2015 shows 1,722 tankers in a queue carrying oil. The eastern path involved oil from the northeast of Syria transferred to northern Iraq and then sent to Turkey through Cizre, a town near Turkey’s border with Syria. A satellite image from Nov. 14, 2015 shows 1,104 tankers along this route. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov stated that over 8,500 tankers transporting up to 200,000 tons of oil used to enter Turkey and Iraq from Islamic State-controlled territories daily. In order for oil to be transported along these routes, a large network of operations must have been set up in Turkey”.[5]

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Since then, the Russians have all but forgotten about accusing Turkey and the Islamic State of complicity, focusing instead on joint anti-terror efforts and renewed cordial relations between the Prez and Putin, including above-board pipeline deals between Moscow and Ankara: “Turkey and Russia on Monday [, 10 Ocotber 2016] signed an inter-governmental agreement on realizing the construction of the planned Turkish Stream gas pipeline to pump Russian gas under Turkish waters in the Black Sea towards Europe. The agreement was signed by Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Turkish counterpart Berat Albayrak, in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after their talks in Istanbul”, as reported by the pro-AKP Daily Sabah.[6] And now that Russia and Turkey are back in business, the Turkish hacker team RedHack has been able to prove that Putin’s earlier accusations were indeed based on credible information, as recounted by Ahmet Yayla: “[b]ased on documents released by Redhack, [the company] Powertrans was established by Ahmet Muhassiloglu and Grand Fortune Ventures, and was registered at an Istanbul address. However, soon after Powertrans was established, Muhassiloglu’s shares were sold to a Singaporean company named Lucky Ventures on April 21, 2011. It was later revealed that Grand Fortune Ventures and Lucky Ventures were established as front companies in Singapore on Aug. 8, 2008, and they moved their operations to the British Virgin Islands on Nov. 7, 2009. It was unclear who owned these companies, and therefore who owned Powertrans. Still, Powertrans was granted the privileges to carry oil from northern Iraq through Turkish oil pipelines and ports. As the Islamic State oil became available in 2014, Powertrans took the opportunity to set up schemes to transfer the oil to the Batman refinery in Turkey and to the Turkish international ports of Mersin, Dortyol, and Ceyhan”.[7]

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The ICSVE deputy director continues that the “documents released by RedHack provide evidence that Albayrak was, and still is, unofficially running the company. The documents also revealed that Albayrak’s cousin, Ekrem Keles, used to work for Çalık Holding as the coordinator for sales and marketing. Keles sent an email to Albayrak on Aug. 9, 2015 reporting on the company’s marketing in northern Iraq. Another important figure who emailed Albayrak often was Betül Yılmaz, who did not have official ties with Powertrans but was the human resources manager of Çalık Holding. Yılmaz communicated with Albayrak frequently via email to get approval for personnel issues. On Dec. 11, 2015 Albayrak wrote to his lawyer regarding a press release responding to a news report naming him as the owner of Powertrans. He asked his lawyer to edit the line by the lawyer stating, ‘his client has no longer had ties with Powertrans.’ Albayrak got upset, firing back at his lawyer, ‘What does it mean? … I have never had any ties with this company!’ The RedHack email releases supported allegations about the Erdoğan family’s illicit and corrupt business activities, which included granting opportunities and contracts without public bids to concealed companies and transferring and selling Islamic State oil. This amounts to providing the terror network with the funds to pay its fighters, to purchase weapons and explosives, and to incite violence around the world. While members of the Erdoğan family were making millions of dollars through shady business activities, their dealings with the Islamic State facilitated brutal killings and displacement of people in Syria and Iraq”.[8]

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The cooperative RedHack released the e-mail trove on 23 September 2016, but direct proof linking Ankara and Raqqa does not appear to be readily available . . . instead, there appears to be a lot of circumstantial e-mail chatter about, detailing the important role played by the Prez’ son-in-law, Berat Albayrak. On the other hand, already in March this year, a “RT Documentary crew filming in northern Syria has seen Islamic State (IS, ISIS/ISIL) documents abandoned by retreating terrorists and found by the Kurds that, along with captured IS recruits, provide a stunning insight into IS oil trade . . . Turkey, which has been actively engaged in the Syrian war since the outset, has repeatedly denied claims that it is aiding IS. However, while Ankara insists that it is the jihadist group’s sworn enemy, facts on the ground often tell a different story. RT has spoken to several witnesses who were involved in Islamic State’s trade activities and accessed the terror group’s documents, which provide insight into how and where foreign militants enter Syria to join the terrorist ‘state’ . . . RT spoke to local residents who had been forced to work in the IS oil industry about what it was like working at the terrorist-controlled oil refinery and where the extracted oil was sold. The locals attested that ‘the extracted oil was delivered to an oil refinery, where it was converted into gasoline, gas and other petroleum products. Then the refined product was sold,’ the RT documentary’s author said. ‘Then intermediaries from Raqqa and Allepo arrived to pick up the oil and often mentioned Turkey.’ Important information revealing the connection between IS and Turkey was provided by a Turkish militant previously captured by the Kurds. The IS recruit said on camera that the terrorist group does, in fact, sell oil to Turkey. ‘Without even us asking the fighter directly, he admitted that the reason why it was so easy for him to cross the Turkish border and join IS was, in part, due to the fact that Turkey also benefited. When asked how, he said that Turkey gets something out of it – something such as oil.'”.[9]

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Cover of an Islamist, anti-Assad propaganda leaflet printed in Istanbul, Turkey. / RT

Additionally, I would like to point out that the above publisher Guraba is a legitimate company in Turkey, operating openly and plainly since 1992 without experiencing any kind of repression or even legal repercussions for cooperating with the Islamic State in Syria at present. The company’s website is accessible for anyone and everyone interested.[10]

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[1] Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil” World Policy Blog (17 Oct 2016). https://www.academia.edu/29217920/Hacked_Emails_Link_Turkish_Minister_to_Illicit_Oil.

[2] Can Erimtan, “Escalating the New Cold War: Turkey downs a Russian Jet” NEO (26 Nov 2015). http://journal-neo.org/2015/11/26/escalating-the-new-cold-war-turkey-downs-a-russian-jet/.

[3] Can Erimtan, “Putin, Tayyip Erdogan and the Issue of Sunnification: A Duel of Words” NEO (02 Dec 2015). http://journal-neo.org/2015/12/02/putin-tayyip-erdogan-and-the-issue-of-sunnification-a-duel-of-words/.

[4] See: C. Erimtan, “48 Hours in Turkey: Diplomatic Victory and Defeat followed a Terror Attack” NEO (04 July 2016). http://journal-neo.org/2016/07/04/48-hours-in-turkey-diplomatic-victory-and-defeat-followed-a-terror-attack/; C. Erimtan, “The Failed Coup Attempt – or the Dawning of Sharia Law in Turkey?” The Duran (18 July 2016). http://theduran.com/author/can-erimtan/.

[5] Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil”.

[6] “Erdoğan, Putin sign agreement on Turkish Stream gas pipeline project” Daily Sabah (10 Oct 2016). http://www.dailysabah.com/energy/2016/10/10/erdogan-putin-sign-agreement-on-turkish-stream-gas-pipeline-project.

[7] Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil”.

[8] Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil”.

[9] “ISIS, oil & Turkey: What RT found in Syrian town liberated from jihadists by Kurds (EXCLUSIVE)” RT (24 March 2016). https://www.rt.com/news/336967-isis-files-oil-turkey-exclusive/.

[x] Guraba Yayınevi. http://www.guraba.com.tr/vitrin/.

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Security Council Meeting on Syria: Moderate Opposition or Not?!??

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‘An emergency UN Security Council meeting on Syria has wrapped up in New York. It was requested by the United States, Britain and France amid the escalating conflict in the city of Aleppo. The meeting saw a heated exchange between the Russian and American envoys. Published on Sep 25, 2016’.

A high-ranking commander of the al-Qaeda branch in Syria formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra but now calling itself Jabhet Fateh al-Sham, has made some interesting remarks recently. The jihadi commander Abu al-Ezz told reporter Jürgen Todenhöfer that “[t]he U.S. support the opposition, but not directly. They support the countries which support us. But we are not yet satisfied with this support. They should support us with highly developed weapons. We have won battles thanks to the ‘TOW’ missiles. We reached a balance with the regime through these missiles. We received the tanks from Libya through Turkey. Also the ‘BMs’ – multiple rocket launchers . . . We do not recognize the ceasefire. We will reposition our groups. We will undertake in the next, in a few days an overwhelming attack against the regime. We have rearranged all our armed forces in all provinces, in Homs, Aleppo, Idlib and Hama. We accept no one from the Assad-regime or from the Free Syrian Army, which is called moderate. Our aim is the downfall of the regime and the founding of an Islamic state according to the Islamic shariah”.[1] Todenhöfer originally published the interview in the daily the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger on 26 September 2016.[2]

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[1] Zen Adra,”Nusra commander in Syria: US supporting us…but not enough” Al-Masdar News (26 September 2016). https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/nusra-commander-syria-us-supporting-usbut-not-enough/.

[1] J. Todenhöfer, “Interview mit Al Nusra-Kommandeur „Die Amerikaner stehen auf unserer Seite“”Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger (26 September 2016). http://www.ksta.de/politik/interview-mit-al-nusra-kommandeur–die-amerikaner-stehen-auf-unserer-seite–24802176?__hstc=143095274.842c504416432b8bff55bede166c1ec7.1474922442443.1474922442443.1474922442446.2&__hssc=143095274.1.1474922442446&__hsfp=3022278840.

Gaming 4 Life: When Real World is Not Enough

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‘Escaping harsh reality or relaxing after a hard working day? A guilty pleasure or the only reason to wake up in the morning? Computer games are made for fun, but sometimes they cause one’s real life turning into a slaughterous level which inevitably results in Game Over. For gamers the computer is everything, so much so that they can even earn money through tournaments and sponsorships. Some even meet their future spouses online, but for others games can take up too much of their time and affect family life. Psychiatrists and psychologists argue whether or not the human mind can be negatively affected by games, but for many they instead serve to help bring people together. Published on Sep 25, 2016’.

 

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Cubs of the Caliphate: ISIS and the EU

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‘More than 50 British children are among those being trained by Islamic State in Syria, according to a UK-based counter-extremism think-tank. And despite the ongoing fight against ISIS, the terror group says jihadi ideology is here to stay and that it’s going to spread across Europe. Published on Aug 2, 2016’.

At the same time, Europol analysts and experts, drawing on contributions from EU Member States and external partners have compiled a disturbing report detailing the threats faced by Fortress Europe in the early 21st century: European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2016 and introduced with these words: ‘This new edition of the EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TE-SAT), which Europol has produced on an annual basis since 2006, provides an overview of the failed, foiled and completed terrorist attacks that took place in the EU during 2015, and of arrests, convictions and penalties issued’.[1] The Director of Europol Rob Wainwright writes that “[i]n 2015 the European Union (EU) experienced a massive number of casualties caused by terrorist attacks. By far the most affected Member State was France, which had to cope with losing 148 citizens and seeing more than 350 injured in attacks perpetrated in January [2015] and November [2015]. Murders and injuries in 2015 resulted from both unsophisticated lone actor terrorist attacks and well-coordinated, complex attacks by groups of militants. The carefully planned attacks demonstrated the elevated threat to the EU from a fanatic minority, operationally based in the Middle East, combined with a network of people born and raised in the EU, often radicalised within a short space of time, who have proven to be willing and able to act as facilitators and active accomplices in terrorism. The attacks have led to political reactions at all levels across the EU. On 29 January 2015 – three weeks after the attack on the editors of the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris – the Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Council issued the “Riga Statement”. In the statement, the Council asserts that counter-terrorism efforts must be reinforced both at national and EU levels, and that terrorism, radicalisation, recruitment and terrorist financing are among the main threats to the internal security of the EU . . . The socalled Islamic State has demonstrated its ability to strike at will, at multiple times and at a diverse range of targets. It has shown its prominence within the “global jihad”, while the threat posed by other jihadist militant groups has not diminished. The overall threat is reinforced by the substantial numbers of returned foreign terrorist fighters that many Member States now have on their soil, perhaps as many as a third of those who had travelled to conflict zones, some of whom could be instrumental in terrorist attacks. Another worrying development is the significant rise in nationalist (xenophobic), racist and anti-Semitic sentiments across the EU, each resulting in acts of right-wing extremism.[2]

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The report itself goes on to say that the “Islamic State has, in the 18 months between its declaration that it re-established the caliphate in June 2014 and December 2015, conducted or inspired at least 50 attacks in 18 countries that have killed 1,100 people and injured more than 1,700. Most attacks – including some public executions of ‘spies’ or other enemies – were carried out in the Middle East and North Africa. The emergence of branches of IS and al-Qaeda in South-East Asia, and a number of terrorist incidents targeting westerners in Bangladesh, might lead to an increased future risk of attacks and kidnappings in those regions. Several European jihadists hold prominent positions in IS and are likely to maintain contact with terrorist networks in their home countries. The 13 November Paris attacks introduced IS’s tactics of using small arms in combination with person-borne improvised explosive devices (PBIED) in suicide vests, designed to cause mass casualties. The way these attacks were prepared and carried out – plotted by returnees, very likely receiving direction from IS leadership, and including the use of local recruits to carry out the attacks – lead us to the assessment that similar attacks could again be staged in the EU in the near future. IS has repeatedly threatened the Iberian Peninsula and EU members of the anti-IS coalition in their propaganda videos, making specific references to Belgium, France, Italy and the UK”. [3]

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[1] “European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2016” Europol (20 July 2016). https://www.europol.europa.eu/content/european-union-terrorism-situation-and-trend-report-te-sat-2016.

[2] Rob Wainwright, “Foreword” European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2016, p. 5.

[3] European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2016, p. 6.

Erdoganistan

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‘Turkey has a long history of conflict with the Kurdish people whose historic homeland is spread over what is now Turkey, Syria and Iran. For many year, Kurds from the country’s South-East have campaigned for autonomy within the Turkish state. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been fighting for independence and because it’s considered a terrorist group, is outlawed in Turkey. Until recently, a ceasefire had been in effect between the government and the PKK; that has now ended. Since then the conflict has escalated and hundreds have been killed. The local Kurdish population claims that Erdogan’s government is conducting an operation against their people. Civilians continue to die and the Turkish police enjoy unchecked authority. They insist that the widespread murder of Kurds is systematically covered up at state level. Erdogan’s government is also accused of collaborating with ISIS. The Kurds in neighbouring Syria have also formed their own resistance, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units who are fighting against ISIS. Several accusations are levelled at the Turkish Government, supported by testimonies from Syrian Kurds, captured ISIS militants and Turkish journalists. They allege that Erdogan’s government buys illegal oil from ISIS, allows the militants safe passage across Turkish borders and even provides them with ammunition. Kurds also claim that with its “one nation, one country” policy, Erdogan’s government hopes to use ISIS as a tool to rid itself of the longstanding Kurdish thorn in its side. Local journalists who have reported on government hostilities towards the Kurds are routinely persecuted and at least one major independent Turkish newspaper has been taken over by the government. Reporters who cover ‘pro-Kurdish’ stories are frequently accused of association with the PKK and by extension, terrorism; many have been arrested and even killed. RT Doc hears first-hand accounts from some of the few remaining independent journalists about their investigations and why they persevere despite the danger. Published on Jun 2, 2016’.

 

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The Big Picture: Full Show 6/3/16

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‘Tonight’s Rumble discusses Trump’s “thin skin,” Paul Ryan’s “endorsement” of Trump, and how the media continues to ignore climate change. In tonight’s Conversations with Great Minds Thom discusses the dangers of fracking with Food and Water Watch’s Wenonah Hauter, author of the new book “Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment.” ‘Published on Jun 3, 2016’.

 

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Those 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and its Role in 9/11

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‘US President Barack Obama has said the classified pages of the 9/11 Commission report that do not “compromise major national security interests” may “hopefully” be soon released, but argued against any potential legal action against Saudi citizens. Published on Apr 20, 2016’.

‘Finally there is renewed effort to declassify 28 pages of a 838-page congressional report on the events of 9/11. It is all about the role some Saudi officials and others may have played. We have been repeatedly told that the pages are damaging. Should we be surprised? After all, it is said Riyadh supports radical ideologies and groups around the world. CrossTalking with Larry Johnson, Oliver Miles, and Eric Zuesse. Published on Apr 20, 2016’.

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