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As U.S. Talks Continue, Turkey Changing Tune on Islamist Group

The Trump administration is pursuing a diplomatic breakthrough with Turkey after months of fluctuating ties with the NATO ally.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visits Washington D.C. today as part of a meeting of the anti-ISIS coalition. President Trump expected to address the group and bilateral talks between the United States and Turkey are likely to continue on the sidelines of this event.

ISIS is one of several U.S. designated terrorist groups in the region. In the past one of the sticking points between Ankara and Washington have been conflicting views toward various Islamic militant groups in the region. However, Turkey’s views on the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups in the region may be changing. The prospect of a free-trade deal between the two countries also suggests a rapprochement.

Analyst say Turkey’s deportation of Mohammed Abdel-Hafiz, an Egyptian national wanted on terrorism charges to his home country, suggests Turkey maybe growing tired of hosting the Islamist group.

Hafiz was sentenced to death in absentia in July 2017 for his alleged role in the 2015 assassination of Egypt’s chief prosecutor Hesham Barakat. No group has formally claimed responsibility for Barakat’s murder but, the attack is quite similar to Egypt’s assistant prosecutor general, Zakaria Abdul Aziz.

“In both incidents, a car rigged with explosives was left parked and detonated along the officials’ motorcade routes,” wrote Mokhtar Awad a Research Fellow at the George Washington University in 2016, ”However, unlike the Barakat assassination—which continues to be left unclaimed by any terrorist group—the alleged perpetrators of the Abdul Aziz attack were quick to provide evidence of their involvement the very next day. The rise of this group, which calls itself Hassm,”

Hassm and Liwa al-Thawra were designated as terrorist groups last year by the United States Treasury Department. Both groups are close to or in contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Trump administration is also reportedly listing the Muslim Brotherhood itself as a terrorist organization. Republican Senator Ted Cruz introduced a bill in 2015 to list the group as a terrorist organization.

The Muslim Brotherhood remains designated a terrorist organization in Russia and several countries in the Middle East including Egypt — where the group originated in the 1920s.

Hafiz’s deportation suggests Turkey maybe rethinking giving shelter to members of the group. The Turkish government survived a 2016 coup attempt that the government an Islamist group – which at one time was close to Turkey’s ruling AK party. Erdogan may be keen to avoid making the same political mistake a second time. 

It is unclear if the Muslim Brotherhood played a role in Hafiz’s deportation who arrived in Turkey last month from Somalia on an itinerary bound for Cairo. However, he never made it past the airport and apparently rejected the option of returning to Somalia. According to media reports a senior Muslim Brotherhood members initially denied he was a member of the organization.

Turkey has launched an investigation into the deportation, though it has already sent shock waves throughout the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey that the government could soon begin deportations of others who have been convicted of terrorism charges in Egypt. One Egyptian expatriate in Turkey called the Muslim Brotherhood “corrupt” in a video posted on YouTube.

A change in Turkish policy would have a severe impact on Qatar. The Gulf monarchy is currently shunned by Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other countries for its support for is support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist groups.

Following a coup in 2013 against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi many Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt fled to Qatar or Turkey.

Times have changed and Turkey is set for regional elections next month. The Turkish government is dealing with a shrinking economy. Both President Trump and President Erdogan are keen to boost trade between the two countries, the announcement of which could give a boost to the Turkish lira, analysts say.

James Jones the chair of American-Turkish Council chair traveled to Turkey this in a goodwill visit. Jones served as a National Security Adviser under the Obama administration and is a former head of NATO traveled to Turkey this week to convey that message.

“Most of the conversation I’ve had with American companies that are coming over here is about their interest in how to not only maintain the relationship but reach the level of trade that both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Donald Trump have agreed to, which is about $75 billion,” Jones said while in Turkey according to Hurriyet Daily News.

Source: American Media Institute

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