Originally published as ‘HTS terrorist allowed to use Turkish banks despite UN sanctions and presidential decree’.

The documents referenced in this article can be found in the original Nordic monitor version.

Abdullah Bozkurt is a Turkish journalist. He was the bureau chief of the Gülen-aligned Today’s Zaman newspaper.

A Turkish member of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), also known as Al-Qaeda in Syria or Nusra Front, opened a bank account with a state lender despite the fact that he was facing an arrest warrant in Turkey, which was forced to freeze his assets and bank accounts.

According to classified financial documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, Emre Çamurcu, a 26-year-old HTS activist, opened a bank account at the state-owned Halkbank on February 21, 2020, although Turkish authorities knew he was working. for HTS under the alias of al-Katade.

Turkey classified HTS as a terrorist group on August 31, 2018 with a presidential decree issued two days earlier as part of Turkey’s compliance with the UN Security Council ISIL (Daesh) and the Sanctions Committee of Al-Qaida. On June 5, 2018, the UN committee updated its data on the Al-Nusra Front, stating that the group established HTS in January 2017 “to advance its position in the Syrian insurgency and pursue its own goals. as an affiliate of Al-Qaeda in Syria”.

Ankara was supposed to freeze the assets of members of HTS and its entities in Turkey after the UN decision became part of Turkish law with the presidential decree; yet no decision has been taken to enforce this decree or the decision of the UN committee.

Since then, HTS members have continued to fundraise and move funds using the Turkish banking system while the group, dominant in Syria’s Idlib province, has continued to trade goods across the Turkish border. -Syrian government, increasing tax revenue in territories controlled by the Turkish military and its affiliated fighter groups.

Çamurcu opening a bank account two years after the imposition of sanctions on HTS is further evidence of how al-Qaeda operates in Turkey without too many obstacles.

According to the confidential dossier on Çamurcu, an arrest warrant was issued against him in 2018 by an Istanbul judge for membership in an armed group. Yet, no criminal investigation is pending against him by prosecutors and no criminal case is pending in any court. His banking activities show that he had had three accounts with another state lender, Ziraat, since 2014 but closed two of them in March 2018. He then opened a bank account with private lender İş Bankasi on January 25, 2018, followed by a Halkbank account. in 2020.

Police records indicate that he had been identified as a member of the HTS long before. The police even asked the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) to look into his bank accounts and assets on April 26, 2019, followed by another request on July 16, 2020.

Although he was flagged as an HTS terrorist, it took years before President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a government decree on December 24, 2021 ordering the freezing of his assets.

He had a brief job in 2018 at a paint factory which operates as Aromatik Kimyevi Maddeler Dış Ticaret Limited Şirketi in Istanbul.

HTS members detained during police raids in Turkey have often been released, while some have freely traveled between Turkey and Syria, conducting business on behalf of the terror group.

HTS remains the predominant terrorist group in Idlib, with some 10,000 fighters according to the latest report released in June by the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team. It integrates various fighter groups and works with affiliates such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), also known as the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP). It operates gas stations and other businesses in Idlib to raise funds to support their activities.

HTS’s presence in Turkish-held Idlib has been one of the contentious issues between Turkey, Russia and Iran, the three countries that launched the Astana process for a ceasefire in Syria. Turkey, as one of the three guarantor states, is supposed to eliminate the terrorist threat in Idlib.

HTS was explicitly designated as a terrorist group and a threat to peace in Syria in a statement issued by the three countries in December 2019. They expressed their “serious concern over the increased presence and terrorist activities of Hayat Tahrir al ‑Sham’ and other affiliated terrorist groups. groups designated by the UN Security Council that pose a threat to civilians inside and outside the de-escalation zone.

Russia believes that Turkey has not joined the ceasefire agreement because it has not yet eliminated the HTS.

Abdullah Bozkurt, Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Sweden-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is president of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.