Turkey Intervenes in Case of Aid Official Accused of Hamas Ties

The Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The Turkish Foreign Ministry sprang to the defense of an official of the Turkish aid agency TIKA, arrested last month by Israel on charges of colluding with Hamas, saying that he is “innocent until proven guilty,” according to the Turkish Daily Sabah.

On Tuesday, the Shin Bet announced the arrest on February 12 of Muhammad Murtaja, 39, for “cooperating with Hamas; being a member of an enemy organization; having contact with enemy spies; and plotting against state security.”

During an investigation conducted by the Shin Bet, it emerged that Murtaja was recruited by Hamas in late 2008, and that his activity with the Palestinian terror group included funneling funds earmarked for humanitarian projects to Hamas.

He was involved in a range of terrorist activities and support, including Hamas military training and exercises, manufacturing weapons and explosive devices and digging terror tunnels, and was planning to obtain information that would improve the accuracy of Hamas rockets targeting Israel. Murtaja was said to have stored weapons, such as hand grenades and guns, in his home for Hamas.

In addition, the Shin Bet uncovered “that the Turkish İHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation helped to directly fund the activities of the Hamas military wing. İHH was designated in 2008 by Israel as a terrorist organization because of its support for Hamas. The investigation uncovered that Mehmet Kaya, the coordinator of IHH’s Gaza office, gave Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Raad Saad cash from Turkey that was earmarked for the Hamas military wing.”

“The money transferred by the IHH to the Hamas military wing was used, inter alia, to build a facility to train Hamas navy commandos, as well as to purchase equipment and weapons. For years IHH methodically transferred funds this way to the Hamas military wing to be used for its military buildup,” said the statement.

The Shin Bet noted that, “Murtaja provided a great deal of operative information during the investigation, including on tunnel routes, the methods used by Hamas in digging the tunnels, action plans for fighting, and weapons manufacturing.”

Following the announcement of his arrest, Ankara quickly took on his case in public, and there are already intimations that there could be diplomatic repercussions.

“According to basic legal principles, until he [the defendant] has been subject to due process, he is assumed to be innocent,” ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu said.

“Murtaja’s situation and judicial process in Israel is being monitored closely,” Muftuoglu said; he vouched for the integrity of TIKA, which he said upholds “international standards.”

Since Murtaja’s arrest, the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv have been actively seeking his release.