WASHINGTON – The specter of an Ottoman Caliphate is rising again, as Mideast movements reveal al-Qaida, the Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood coalescing under the black banner of ISIS.
In recent days, the head of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the main al-Qaida franchise headquartered in Yemen, swore allegiance to the Islamic State, or ISIS.
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Nasser al-Wuhayshi, a Yemeni who has led AQAP since 2009, was a close associate of Osama bin Laden and maintains a special relationship with al-Qaida's current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Last year, Zawahiri even appointed Wuhayshi as the "Ma'sul al-Amm," Arabic for "general manager," of al-Qaida in Pakistan.
According to intelligence analysts, this appointment gives Wuhayshi access to the resources of al-Qaida affiliates throughout the Muslim world, thereby accentuating his importance.
"O brothers," Wuhayshi recently told a gathering of fellow jihadists, "the crusader enemy is still shuffling his papers, so we must remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the leaders of disbelief, and we have to overthrow those leaders, we have to remove the Cross, and the carrier of the Cross is America"
A recently released statement by AQAP has made clear its allegiance with ISIS.
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"We are behind our brothers against this international crusade, and we join them in their enmity against this campaign," an online statement from AQAP in Yemen declared.
"We confirm the call to whoever is able to hurt the Americans to make an effort to hurt them militarily, economically and through the media. They are the leaders of this war and the case of this campaign," the statement said.
"We assert to the Islamic Nation that we stand by the side of our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the American and Iranian conspiracy and their agents of the apostate Gulf rulers," it said.
AQAP called on rival militant jihadi groups to stop fighting each other and unite against the U.S.-led alliance.
"We urge all the mujahidin (Islamist fighters) to forget their differences and to stop the infighting among themselves," the AQAP statement said. "We announce solidarity with our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the crusade. Their blood and injuries are ours, and we will surely support them."
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AQAP has been in the vanguard of targeting terrorist attacks against the United States. It also was the group jihadi Yemeni-American Anwar al-Awlaki operated within until he was killed in September 2011 by a U.S. drone attack under presidential order.
Saeed al-Jamhi, who heads the Al-Jamhi Center for Strategic Studies, recently told the Yemen Times there were ISIS gunmen training fighters in Yemen, with some AQAP members fighting in Iraq with ISIS.
Analysts say that Wuhayshi's pledge of support for ISIS appears for now to have buried the hatchet between the ISIS emir, Caliph Ibrahim, also known in the West as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, with al-Qaida leader Zawahiri.
Major differences had erupted between them last year that led initially to Zawahiri disassociating al-Qaida central from ISIS due to Baghdadi's brutality and efforts to bring under ISIS' control the Syrian al-Qaida affiliate, the Jabhat al-Nusra Front.
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Not only has AQAP now linked up with ISIS, but an increasing number of al-Qaida-affiliated Sunni jihadist groups – such as the Jabhat al-Nusra cells inside Syria and Lebanon – also are swearing allegiance to ISIS.
Sources have told WND that al-Nusra and ISIS leaders have actually been holding war-planning meetings.
Despite its differences with ISIS, al-Nusra looks upon western attacks as a "war on Islam."
"We are in a long war," al-Nusra spokesman Abu Firas al-Suri recently said on social media outlets. "This war will not end in months, or years. This war could last for decades."
In taking over northeastern Syria and western and central Iraq beginning last June, ISIS has declared those territories it has captured as the Islamic State Caliphate.
Regional sources say that Turkey's complicity in furthering ISIS' caliphate, to the point of conducting business with the jihadist group, ultimately is to further designs to recreate the Ottoman Caliphate, which reached its zenith in 1683.
Middle East expert Nawaf Qadimi has provided further evidence of the subtle cooperation between Turkey and ISIS.
"We have witnessed the severity of the (ISIS) organization in demolishing all the shrines, temples and tombs, even those that are attributed to the prophets and the companions, as being a manifestation of shirk (polytheism), as said by them," Qadimi said.
"However, when it comes to the shrine of the grandfather of the Turkish Ottomans, Suleiman Pasha, inside Syria and in the areas under (ISIS) control, not only did (ISIS) refrain from destroying it, but facilitated the entry of Turkish troops to such shrines and protected them," he said. "The ISIS forces are to date protecting it and did not destroy it."
Further underscoring Turkey's quest to reestablish the Ottoman Empire, which dissolved at the end of World War I after some 500 years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a devout Muslim, made a telling comment in July 2012 before an audience of his Justice and Development Party.
Erdogan, who at that time was prime minister, made the statement to justify efforts to overthrow the government of Shiite-Alawite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and openly allow jihadist fighters to use Turkey to train and to stage attacks in Syria.
"The Justice and Development Party is a party in which the spirit of the Seljuks and the Ottomans is deeply rooted," Erdogan said.
He regards the Turkish people as the Seljuks, remnants of the Ottoman Empire.
Historically, the Seljuk state was a medieval Turko-Persian empire extending from eastern Anatola – the old name for Turkey – and from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf into the Khorasan area.
In September 2012, Erodogan made another reference to reestablishing the Ottoman Empire stemming from its Seljjuk roots.
"We are walking in our conqueror ancestors' footsteps, starting from Sultan Alp Arslan reaching to Fatih Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror," Erdogan said.
Alp Arslan was the second Seljuk ruler, assuming power in AD 1046.
Middle East expert Israa al-Fass points out Arslan undertook initiatives similar to ISIS caliphate leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Arslan captured territory through wars, looked on those holding other Islamic doctrines, such as the Fatimids, as infidels and attacked them.
"Perhaps al-Arslan's inheritance, which Erdogan is glorifying, helps us understand Turkey's policy not only in terms of its interference in the Syrian crisis, but even regarding its support for the Takfiri organizations, the foremost (being) [ISIS]," Fass said.
"The Seljuks drew the policies to expand their influence, and their tools were the advocates of takfiri (accusing another Muslim of apostasy) and the recruiting of fighters in the name of religions," Fass said. "Here is Erdogan in actual fact walking in the footsteps of the ancestors and painting policies, and the tools are the texts of takfiri for which he is recruiting fighters in the name of religion itself! That is how history is enabling us to understand our present."
Fass also asserts that ISIS' "funding father" is a personal friend of Erodogan, Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi. He has been linked to other international terrorist organizations.
Al-Qadi, who is listed as a "specially designated global terrorist" by the United States due to his alleged association with al-Qaida and its late leader, Osama bin Laden, was educated as an architect in Chicago.
He is the son-in-law of Sheik Ahmed Salah Jamjoom, who has close ties to the Saudi royal family.
Al-Qadi is closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which Erdogan also backs, especially after its leadership was exiled from Egypt after the military takeover of the government from Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi.
Consequently, there is mounting concern that Turkey has begun to aid ISIS and refused to join in the U.S.-led coalition against its jihadist army, which has committed atrocities such as beheadings in its takeover of large portions of northeastern Syria and western and central Iraq.
Turkey, which is Sunni, continues to keep open its borders to allow Sunni jihadist fighters seeking to join ISIS to cross into Syria. Many of the fighters are from Europe and the United States.
As WND recently pointed out, Turkey has been a major gathering point to for fighters throughout the world to obtain training and logistical support to join various jihadist groups and the Syrian opposition fighting Shite-Alawite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In addition, Turkey has had a historical animosity against the Kurds and the Kurdish Workers' Party, or PKK, in particular. Sources tell WND that Erdogan sees the use of ISIS, which is fighting the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, as a means of eliminating this historical opposition, which wants a portion of Turkey to create a Kurdish homeland called Kurdestan.
Turkey also remains a major conduit of money laundering to ISIS. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are known financial sources to ISIS, and the funds generally are channeled through Turkey to ISIS in neighboring Syria.
Turkey's backing hasn't gone unnoticed by ISIS, whose leadership now is considering rewarding Turkish businesses with contracts in ISIS-occupied Sunni areas of Iraq.
Turkey's minister of economy, Nihat Zeybekci, is receptive to the notion and has been open about encouraging Turkish businesses to invest in ISIS-occupied portions of Iraq.
"Our exports to Iraq are now down to 35 percent, but Iraq cannot easily substitute other sources," Neybekci said. "We think there will be a boom in demand soon. We also know that [ISIS] is contacting individual Turkish businessmen and telling them, 'Come back, we won't interfere.' That is not easy, of course. But when in the future Iraq is rebuilt, it will be Turkey doing it."
In addition, energy-starved Turkey has been sending close to a billion dollars to ISIS for oil shipments, predominantly from ISIS-occupied Syria and Iraq. ISIS is known to be working oil drilling installations in areas it occupies to raise revenue from illicit oil sales.
Estimates are that ISIS is exporting up to 4,000 tons of fuel to Turkey daily and is earning in return up to $30 million each month from energy sales. Because Turkish border guards tend to look the other way when such shipments occur, villages along the border with Syria continue their smuggling virtually in the open.
The market price for a barrel of Brent Crude, as of the end of August, was some $102 a barrel. However, ISIS is selling the oil from $25 to $60 a barrel. The sources say such sales haven't affected global oil prices, since much of the black market oil never leaves Turkey.
Such below-market sales of ISIS oil continues despite ongoing U.S. bombing of ISIS' so-called mobile oil wells.
The oil for Turkey goes through its southern region, which ISIS has already designated to become part of its caliphate, encompassing northeastern Syria into western and central Iraq.
"Countries like Turkey have turned a blind eye to the practice, and international pressure should be mounted to close down black markets in its southern region," asserts Lusay Al Khatteeb of the Brookings Doha Centre.
"The northern part of Iraq, southern Turkey and eastern Syria are known for smuggling historically," Khatteeb said. "Earlier, these gangs used to smuggle goods. Now, they have evolved into oil trading."
Turkey also continues to offer hospital assistance to ISIS fighters to recover from wounds received while fighting in Syria.
The Brotherhood connection
Erdogan's backing of ISIS is consistent with his support of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is helping to consolidate the various Sunni jihadist groups toward his grand design of recreating the Ottoman Caliphate.
The Turkish president recently agreed to accept into Turkey the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood that had been kicked out of Egypt earlier and then was kicked out of Qatar, which had sided with Saudi Arabia in opposition to the Brotherhood.
Both the Saudis and other Gulf Arab monarchies opposed the previous Egyptian government of Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammad Morsi, who a year following his election was deposed by the Egyptian military.
Erdogan, however, had opposed Morsi's ouster.
Even the spiritual father of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has asserted in a recent interview that ISIS' Baghdadi once was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
"This youth [al-Baghdadi] was from the start among the top ranks of the Brotherhood, but he was inclined to [positions of] leadership and so forth," al-Qaradawi said. "Then, after he spent years in prison for Brotherhood activities, he came out and joined with them."
Egypt also has linked the Brotherhood with ISIS.
Dr. Muhammad Mukhtar Gomaa, the Egyptian minister of religious endowments, said that al-Qaradawi's statement on al-Baghdadi "confirms that the Brotherhood is the spiritual father to every extremist group."
"Qaradawi's revelation was not meant to cast aspersions on the Brotherhood, especially since he is one of its spiritual fathers," Gomaa said. "More likely, Qaradawi was invoking the idea that imprisoning and suppressing 'moderate Islamists' – namely the Muslim Brotherhood, as occurred most recently in Egypt's revolution – will only lead to their 'radicalization.'
"This is a widely accepted theory, especially in the West," Gomaa said. "Al-Qaeda's Ayman Zawahiri is another former Brotherhood member who is regularly portrayed as becoming 'radicalized' and turning to jihad after being imprisoned in Egypt in 1981.
"However, any evaluation of the facts of his life demonstrates that he was a 'radical' well before he was incarcerated – he was imprisoned precisely because he was radical," Gomaa said.
Gomaa asserts the Islamic State is the descendant of the Muslim Brotherhood. Separately, Egyptian security officials say that they have discovered documents linking Muslim Brotherhood activists to ISIS.
Underscoring worries the Brotherhood's association with ISIS, Wagdy Ghoneim, a recently expelled member of the Muslim Brotherhood from Qatar, has declared support for the Islamic State.
Ghoneim, an Islamic preacher and writer, was an imam at the Islamic Institute of Orange County, California, until 2005.
He was a fundraiser for the Toledo, Ohio-based Hamas charity KindHearts.
In 2005, Ghoneim left the U.S. for Qatar after being expelled for supporting Hamas and other organizations and was given a 10-year ban on re-entering the U.S.
Like other expelled Muslim Brotherhood members from Qatar, and from Egypt before that, a Middle East source tells WND Ghoneim is in Turkey for the time being.
Before he was expelled from Qatar, Ghoneim had posted a video on YouTube calling the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition a "Crusader war" and called the late Osama bin Laden the "martyred heroic mujahid, Bin Laden."
"Dead brothers, virtuous sisters, I deliver this message after leaving beloved Qatar yesterday, and it is titled: 'No to the Crusader war against the Islamic State.' I say 'No' to the Crusader war – a war for which America and the Crusader West are mobilizing their armies now – against the Islamic State," Ghoneim said.
"Dearly beloved, the West and America … the Crusaders in general are filled with hate towards Islam and the Muslims. They harbor evil towards Islam and the Muslims. Allah says this, not me. The Crusaders in America, Europe, and elsewhere are our enemies," Ghoneim said. "Their faith is built on killing and bloodshed. Really! It is quite clear from their New Testament. They say so themselves.
"We shall never forget the terrorism of criminal America, which threw the body of the martyred heroic mujahid, Bin Laden, into the sea. May Allah have mercy upon him and place him among the righteous.
"They threw his body into the sea. This is how they respect human rights," he said. "Let me say this loud and clear: I have disagreements with my brothers in the Islamic State on some issues. I wish they would reexamine some issues, which have made them a target for some brothers' anger and reservations.
"I beseech my brothers in the Islamic State to reconsider these issues," Ghoneim added. "They should always adhere to the Quran and the Sunna, as interpreted by the ancient scholars. They should unite against their enemies. It is true that I have some disagreements with them, but by no means do I support the Crusader coalition against them. I shall never join hands with a Crusader to attack my fellow Muslim. Never ever."
"No, no, no to the Crusader coalition against the Islamic State," he concluded.
F. Michael Maloof, senior staff writer for WND/ G2Bulletin, is a former security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He can be contacted at [email protected].