Turkish police raid Islamic charity: Smear campaign or anti-Qaeda operation?

Accused of trying to smuggle arms to Syria

Turkish anti-terror police on Tuesday raided the offices of an Islamic charity in what the organisation branded a "smear campaign" linked to the corruption scandal embroiling the government.
The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which has been accused of trying to smuggle arms to Syria, said the police raids were part of a wider operation against Al-Qaeda in Turkey, but this could not immediately be confirmed.
It charged that the IHH, considered very close to the government, was a victim of the feud between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a powerful exiled Islamic preacher at the root of the burgeoning political crisis.
Police searched IHH premises in the southern town of Kilis near the Syrian border in an early morning operation that vice president Huseyin Oruc branded a "dirty plot" -- echoing Erdogan's description of the corruption probe that has targeted key members of his inner circle.
One person was detained in the raid by local counter-terrorism police units who also tried to confiscate documents and computers, the IHH said.
IHH officials said it had been targeted as part of a police operation against Al-Qaeda in six Turkish cities, but this was not immediately confirmed by Turkish police or government officials.
"This smear campaign is backed by people inside and outside Turkey," IHH secretary general Yasar Kutluay said, without elaborating.
"We certainly associated this operation with the corruption scandal. It is not only about IHH. They want to brand Turkey as a country which supports terrorism and want it to be tried before international courts," he said.
The police operation came a day after President Abdullah Gul held a round of meetings with top political leaders including Erdogan to try to defuse a brewing row over a government bid to curb the powers of the judiciary.
The legislation proposed by Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government is seen by critics as a bid to head off the widening corruption probe that has seen the detention of business leaders, civil servants and the sons of cabinet ministers.
Erdogan says the investigation is a deliberate plot to weaken his government ahead of key local elections in March and has purged hundreds of police and prosecutors involved.
He blames supporters of erstwhile ally Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric with close ties to the judiciary and the police who fell out with the government after it unveiled plans to close a network of private schools run by the Gulen movement.
The IHH, which has been accused of shipping arms to rebels in Syria, denied any link between its staff and Al-Qaeda.
On January 1, Turkish media reported that security forces had stopped a truck loaded with arms and ammunition on the Syrian border and arrested three people including a Syrian.
The drivers claimed they were carrying aid on behalf of IHH but the organisation denied the allegations as "slanderous".
Interior Minister Efkan Ala also denied the reports, saying the truck was shipping aid to the Turkmen community in parliament.
The Turkish government has repeatedly denied it is involved in sending weapons to rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
However, in December, local media -- quoting UN and government documents -- reported that Turkey had shipped 47 tonnes of arms to the rebels since June last year.
Media reports also said Friday that police had seized two buses near the Syrian border that were carrying weapons and ammunition secreted in the baggage hold.
The IHH organised the flotilla of ships carrying aid to Gaza that was raided by Israeli commandos in 2010.
Nine Turkish activists were killed in the Israeli raid on the IHH's Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, sending relations with Turkey, once its closest Muslim ally, to an all-time low.
Israeli Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman this month described IHH as a threat to the interests of the Jewish state.