ISLAMIC NGOs AND THE JIHAD IN SYRIA — A LOOK AT FUKARA DER
By Ronald Sandee
My first report about Islamic NGOs and their roles fueling the jihad in Syria did not mention names of the organizations I am currently studying. The following is the first report that reflects some of my findings pursuant to research conducted by myself and others at Kronos Advisory, the focus of which is on an array of NGOs raising support for various elements active in Syria. Some of these organizations’ beneficiaries are radical Islamist groups, including entities designated terrorist organizations by the USG; others are simply victims of the ongoing conflict(s) in Syria. While I have not discovered hard proof this first organization covered below is actively supporting the jihad, I assess there to be enough red flags as to warrant law enforcement organizations taking a closer look at this NGO’s activities. While the level of details offered below may disappoint some, we anticipate our ongoing research will enable us to offer readers additional reporting on this group in future posts.
Fukara Der is a new player on the Islamic NGO front. Based in Adana, Turkey, Fukara Der representatives claim their organization seeks to provide help to Syrian refugees in and around Adana, as well as inside Syria. The organization began operating in the summer of 2013, and became an official foundation under Turkish law in late 2013.
By using online social media platforms, the organization has realized much success with its fundraising work in recent months. Three fundraising drives were organized since late in 2013 that enabled the group to deliver 2,000 blankets to Syria in January. In February 2014, its representatives distributed inside Syria 1,500 bags with goods and candy for orphans. The following month, they delivered 25 tons of flower to a Syrian refugee camp in order to help make bread.
The group’s current drive is focused on an altogether different area of concerns. In late March 2014, the leadership of Fukara Der decided to initiate a large Dawah project. The goal of this project is to deliver books on Tawhid, biographies of the prophet and other materials to schools throughout Syria. Another goal of this drive is to generate financial resources for teachers in Syria who will utilize the educational materials delivered by Fukara Der in their classrooms.
While all of these lofty goals are sincere, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed by law enforcement officials, especially in Europe. Among them are the following:
Firstly, Fukara Der is a Turkish foundation operating in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Although Fukara is not registered in the Netherlands or Germany, the group solicits donations in those countries, asking donors to send them to Belgium, where Fukara was finally registered in mid February 2014 as a foundation. Interestingly, while the group is focused on raising resources for individuals affected by the situation in Syria, donors are instructed not to use the word Syria when they transfer money as banks in the Netherlands and Belgium could start asking questions and might hold the transfers.
Secondly, European officials concerned with monitoring the spread of radical Islam will probably be interested in the worldviews of Fukara Der representatives. The roughly 10 individuals comprising the core Fukara Der team, including the group’s founder and leader Hasan Süslü, have Salafist backgrounds. The online activities of several members of this core group of representatives also reveal they maintain relationships with a significant list of hardcore jihadists active in both Syria and Europe. Through their work with Fukara Der, these individuals also now seek to spread their beliefs in Syria by providing Syrian schools books and other materials used to propagate their ideology.
Furthermore, Fukara Der leader Hasan Süslü’s ties to radical elements are noteworthy. Süslü is close to officials in Turkey’s ruling AK Party and its charity organization, the Humanitarian Relief Organization (IHH), which was the driving force behind the Gaza Flotilla in 2010. His posts on social media accounts make it clear he supports the jihad in Syria, and he advocates waging jihad against Israel. Süslü also maintains contact with fighters (mainly Turks) who are members of Jabhat al-Nusrah and ISIS.
As Fukara Der is a relatively new charitable entity, it has been able to operate in a grey area where there is no real oversight of how the foundation’s resources are utilized. Meanwhile, the group — whose leader has extensive contacts within jihadi spheres active in Syria — is both realizing notable successes with fundraising activities, and making deliveries inside Syria. Indeed, Hasan Süslü’s contacts within Turkey’s ruling AK Party are also likely providing him help with moving people and materials into Syria.
Given its capabilities to deliver resources into Syria, the possibility that Fukara Der is being utilized as a facilitation enterprise by jihadis fighting in Syria should not be ruled out without a closer examination of its activities. I believe investigators will be alarmed by the activities of many individuals linked to this organization. In the very least, mapping this organization’s networks in the West and the Near East will likely yield valuable data for investigators concerned with identifying radical elements with linkages to militant jihadis and their supporters in Syria, as well as in Europe.