Gaza Flotilla Leader Grilled Over Fund Transfer to Al-Qaida

IHH president is suspected of secretly transferring funds through the organization's system without informing other senior officials.

The president of the Turkish organization behind the May 2010 Gaza flotilla is being questioned by police over the alleged transfer of funds to Al-Qaida, a Turkish newspaper reported on Friday.

The daily Haberturk wrote that IHH president Bulent Yildirim is suspected of secretly transferring the funds through the organization's system without informing other senior officials. Turkish police have appointed a special prosecutor to the case, but at this point the source of the funds - as well as the Al-Qaida branch which received them - are still unclear.

Yildirim was among the flotilla's organizers and was aboard the Mavi Marmara during the Israeli naval takeover on May 31, 2010. A violent altercation resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens and injuries to many more, including ten Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

Several days after the incident, Israel's Foreign Ministry released a video filmed by one of the activists on the ship, showing Yildirim talking to the passengers and saying, in Turkish, "If Israeli commandos board the ship, we will throw them overboard."

The allegations against Yildirim come days after the release of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss' highly-critical report into Israeli preparations for the flotilla.

Reacting to the state comptroller's report, a senior official in the Turkish Foreign Ministry said, "The report indicated that the attack on the Mavi Marmara, and the deaths of the Turkish civilians, could have been prevented ... Israel should use the opportunity to apologize to the Turkish people and government."

The official clarified that there was no change in the position of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to which Israel must apologize, pay compensation and remove the blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Commenting on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's claim that Erdogan hinted that he could stop the flotilla, the official said that before the event, there were intensive discussions between Israel, Turkey, the U.S. and Egypt, but Turkey never said that it could stop the flotilla.

Arad slams pre-flotilla planning

In Israel, Prof. Uzi Arad, who headed the National Security Council at the time of the Gaza flotilla, harshly criticized the government's preparations for the ships. "The debate at the meeting of the seven ministers [known as the septet] before the flotilla arrived was impossibly sloppy," Arad said on Friday. "Four days before the event [May 27, 2010], a debate was held which failed to view the problem in its entirety. The national security council didn't prepare for the flotilla but rather examined other connected issues at the time, such as Gilad Shalit's condition and the Gaza blockade."

Speaking at an Eretz Israel Museum event in Tel Aviv, Arad criticized the government for only changing its policy toward Gaza after the incident. "I preferred not to take part in the cabinet discussion," he said. "The flotilla arrived and, all at once, the policy toward the Gaza Strip changed, the blockade was eased and there was an end to all the stories about a humanitarian crisis. Our lesson is that the NSC should be taken much more seriously. Its objective is to offer alternative solutions."

Arad added that in confidential debates, ideas were raised with the intention of easing the blockade and creating an atmosphere that wouldn't necessitate provocative actions such as the Turkish flotilla.

"We requested that the cabinet debate the policy regarding the Gaza Strip, including possible flotillas, but we weren't allowed to do so, and eventually there was no time left," Arad said. "I called out a warning, but meanwhile the Marmara arrived and the bad atmosphere was already created."

Turkish activists with pictures of victims of the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.