Germany Sees Turkey as Platform for Islamist Groups, Leak Shows
Turkey’s government rebuffed a leaked German report that described the country as a platform for Islamist groups in the Middle East, increasing the risk of renewed tension between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The German government’s internal assessment, cited by broadcaster ARD, is a “new indication of a twisted mentality that attempts to wear out our country by targeting our president and the government,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in e-mailed statement on Wednesday. It blamed unnamed politicians in Germany for applying “double standards” on countries’ commitment to fighting terrorism.
It’s the latest fraught moment between the two countries after Turkey pledged in March to halt the flow of refugees from the Middle East to Europe under an accord with the EU that was championed by Merkel. Turkey, now grappling with upheaval after an attempted military coup against Erdogan in July, has said it will scrap the deal if isn’t granted visa waivers for its citizens traveling to the EU.
Germany views Turkey as an “important partner” in fighting terrorism, including by Islamic State, and the refugee accord remains valid and “sensible,” Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s chief spokesman, told reporters in Berlin. He declined to comment on the substance of the leaked report.
The assessment of Turkey, based on German intelligence reports, was cited in a classified response from the Interior Ministry in Berlin to the opposition Left Party, according to ARD. It cites increasing ties between Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party and other regional Islamist groups, including Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Syria’s opposition and Palestinian militant movement Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel, ARD reported Tuesday.
“As a result of the gradual Islamization of Ankara’s foreign and domestic policy especially since 2011, Turkey has developed into a central platform of action for Islamist groupings throughout the region,” according to the document cited by ARD.
Seibert said Turkey’s relationship with Hamas is “no secret” and welcomed what he described as improving ties between Turkey and Israel.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, a senior member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, defended the refugee accord at an election rally late Tuesday. “I don’t like at all what Mr. Erdogan is doing, but I’m not in favor” of ending EU-Turkish cooperation on refugees, Schaeuble said in the port city of Rostock.
Erdogan, who has run Turkey since 2002, has emphasized the country’s role as a regional Islamic-oriented power as he’s tightened his grip over the country and stifled opposition. He has redoubled his effort to assert control over state institutions following the coup attempt, detaining or suspending tens of thousands of officials, including soldiers, judges and academics.