Leaked Dutch intelligence file warns about Erdoğan's role in domestic radicalisation, rise of salafism

A leaked Dutch intelligence document drew a connection between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the rise of Salafist inside the Netherlands, Nederlandse Omroep Stichting (NOS) reported on Monday. 

In a still confidential report, the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV) assesses that Erdoğan’s goals of “Islamisation” in Turkey are being spread to the Turkish community in the Netherlands through Turkish-Dutch associations. 

According to the 30 page document, Turkish Salafist organisations possess "strong ties" with Turkish organisations in the Netherlands, in particular with Turkish-Dutch youth organizations. These groups in turn interact with preachers connected to Salafists and interact on social media where they allegedly glorify fallen jihadists and share anti-Western as well as anti-Semitic messages.

In one section of the document titled “Erdogan's Islamization Strategy: How Salafists Benefit”, it says that the Turkish president provided space for Salafists in Turkey as he consolidated his political power over time. 

It highlights specifically Turkey’s relationship with certain groups including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Syria and alleges that Erdoğan has “provided scope” to other militant Islamist movements including the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front (IBDA-C). 

Most seriously, the report’s analysts debated a connection between Erdoğan’s stances and the 2019 Utrecht tram attack. It alleges that Erdoğan’s invocation of the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand by a violent white supremacist earlier that year and general anti-Western rhetoric played a part in Gökmen Tanış’s “readiness for action”. On the morning of 18 March 2019, three people were killed and seven others were injured in a mass shooting on a tram in Utrecht, Netherlands. Tanış, a 37-year-old Turkish man, was convicted later for the attack.

The leaked file has been controversial for its content since first being reported. 

For example, Dutch magazine HP/De Tijd notes that analysts inside and outside NCTV disagreed on how strong of a connection there was between Erdoğan’s rhetoric and the Utrecht attack. One of the preachers cited as an associate of Tanis and as a radicalising force, Metin Kaplan, has attacked Erdoğan as a “dog of America”. The IBDA-C is itself listed as a terrorist group in Turkey and the United States.

The NCTV in a comment to HP/De Tijd described the report as “analytically immature” meaning it is not a finished intelligence product of the government. Inside the report, it also notes that one goal is to work together with local municipalities to prevent radicalisation among Dutch-Turks, not target them as a group.

However, the report has prompted some early backlash in the Netherlands as Dutch politicians request an explanation of the report. 

Socialist Party MP Ronald van Raak cautioned that everyone should wait for a final report to be completed before jumping to any conclusions. Tunahan Kuzu, an MP from the pro-AKP Denk Party, said it was also too soon to respond. 

Independent MP Femke Merel van Kooten announced on Twitter that she was submitting a set of 35 questions to the government related to the document. 

Far-right Party of Freedom leader Geert Wilders went the furthest by accusing the centre-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte of smothering the NCTV report. He also pinned an image of Erdoğan's face split between a Turkish flag and the black flag of the Islamic State (ISIS).

“Erdogan is a deadly Islamist who incites hatred andd terror here in the Netherlands as well. I’ve been saying this for over 15 years and it always got ignored by [Rutte] and the VVD” Wilders tweeted on Monday, referring to the ruling People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. 

Rutte’s government has not yet commented on the NCTC report. 

Both Wilders and van Kooten requested that parliamentary chairmen acquire the full report and that the Dutch House of Representatives return from recess for a debate on it. 

This comes at politically sensitive time for Rutte’s coalition as the next election approach in March, but currently show them maintaining a lead over Wilders’ PVV and other rivals.

Turkish officials acknowledged the report on Monday and attacked it as a racist and biased product. Erdoğan's communications director Fahrettin Altun dismissed the Dutch NCTV report as an "inaccurate, biased and ignorant ‘report" and went on to tar the current Dutch government using Wildes' remarks. 

"No word that Geert Wilders and his merry band of neo-Nazis ever uttered has amounted to anything," Altun tweeted. "The real danger is that seemingly moderate governments and ostensibly responsible policymakers in Europe seem to concur.

AKP Deputy chairman Mahir Ünal called out Wilder as an "ugly Nazi remnant" and the "product of rising racism in Europe". He did not mention the intelligence report, but he tweeted that politicians like Wilders only spew for their "anti-Erdoğan and Islamophobia" sentiments. 

Ibrahim Kalin, President Erdoğan's foreign policy aide, opted not to respond on the NCTV report in favour of mocking Wilders. He simply tweeted "Imbecile" next to an unflattering image of the Dutch far-right leader.   

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.