Turkey to freeze assets of businessmen with al-Qaeda, Taliban links

The Turkish government has issued a resolution to freeze the assets of individuals and corporations known to have links to the terrorist al-Qaeda and the Taliban in an effort to remove itself from a “gray list” compiled by an international body that combats terrorism financing.

The resolution approved by the Cabinet was published in Thursday’s issue of the Official Gazette and has gone into force. Turkey will freeze the assets of 349 individuals and 67 corporations as per the decision.

Turkey has long been under pressure by the international community for its lack of action against the financing of terrorism. Turkey was placed on a “gray list” along with countries such as Syria, Ethiopia, Cuba and Kenya, compiled by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental body fighting against money laundering and terrorist financing. “Gray list” countries are thought to have not done enough or not be committed to the FATF’s action plan to address their deficiencies in combating financing terrorism. The reason Turkey was placed on the list is due to its failure to comply with a UN Security Council resolution on freezing assets owned by individuals affiliated with the terrorist organizations al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Turkey had long dragged its feet on supporting the resolution but gave in to international pressure and adopted a law against the financing of terrorism earlier this year. It also adopted a resolution including recommendations of the UN Security Council, which was published in the Official Gazette on Thursday. The resolution orders that the assets of 130 real and four corporate persons determined to have links to the Taliban and 219 individuals and 63 corporations with links to al-Qaeda be frozen.

The Ministry of Finance is currently investigating the assets of those listed in the government’s resolution. Currently, Finance Ministry inspectors are going through the databases of land registry directorates, banks, stock and commodity exchanges and private financial companies to establish the amount of financial assets of those listed as having terrorist links.

The Cabinet decision will help Turkey to be removed from the FATF’s gray list. In addition, Finance Ministry sources said they will also be submitting a report on the country’s efforts against terrorism financing to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

But terrorism and security expert Nihat Ali Özcan told Today’s Zaman he doesn’t see the move as an attempt to dispel the impression that Turkey is backing radical groups. “This was an issue about money laundering and the financing of terrorism and this, according to legal agreements on security rules, is what automatically happens to individuals who are found to be linked to terrorist organizations.”

He said Turkey has doubts about whether all of the individuals identified by the US or other international forces as being linked to terrorist groups are indeed involved in such activities. “There were controversial issues about who is linked to a terrorist organization,” he said. Turkey is only carrying out its responsibilities stemming from international covenants, according to Özcan.

Süleyman Özeren, the director of the International Terrorism and Transnational Crime Research Center (UTSAM), said he does not agree with the criticism that Turkey has been dragging its feet in implementing the measures against terrorism financing. He said it is important for Turkey to implement the rules of the FATF, as an important regional player and a large economy.

“Turkey had to carry out its responsibilities, but I don’t agree that there has been a delay.” He said Turkey’s considerations were justified and valid, adding that the timing of the resolution was good. “The fact that this comes at a time when there is anti-Turkish propaganda from Syria and [false] claims that [Turkey supports] al-Qaeda in Syria is a happy coincidence.”

The international community has been doubtful of Turkey’s commitment to fighting radical groups. In a recent report, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said: “According to Syrian security officials, media reports, Western diplomats, and observations by journalists and humanitarian workers, foreign fighters in these groups enter Syria from Turkey, from which they also smuggle their weapons and obtain money and other supplies, and to which they retreat for medical treatment.”todayszaman