At least 12 Hamas operatives, including a senior leader and others convicted of murder, have enjoyed safe haven in Turkey, a country that regional experts say is quickly becoming "a very hospitable environment" for Hamas terrorists to plan operations.
Turkey’s ties to Hamas have come under scrutiny in recent weeks after it came to light that a senior Hamas leader accused of planning the kidnapping of three Israeli teens is being sheltered in the country with the government’s knowledge.
In addition to top Hamas official Saleh Al-Arouri, Turkey has provided shelter to at least 11 other Hamas militants, two of whom have murdered Israelis and are known to the Turkish authorities, according to data published by the Palestinian National Information Center.
While Turkey’s support for Hamas has attracted concern in prominent foreign policy circles, the State Department has not expressed concern about the developments and is going forward with weapons shipments to Ankara.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Treasury Department, warned that Turkey and Hamas are only growing closer.
"It appears that there are at least two convicted murderers running around Turkey right now with the full acknowledgment of the government in Ankara. But because their victims were Israelis, there does not appear to be a lot of concern about a possible threat to public safety," said Schanzer, who recently exposed the full list of Hamas operatives believed to be residing in Turkey.
"It is entirely unclear how many Hamas figures are based in Turkey right now, but it is clear that the country has become a very hospitable environment for leaders such as Saleh Arouri, but also some of the rank-and-file," warned Schanzer, the vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Israel released into Turkey 10 Hamas militants as part of its 2011 deal to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Others were released to Syria and Qatar, Hamas’ chief financier.
Since that time, Hamas members have enjoyed unfettered access to Turkey, where members such as Al-Arouri have hatched terror plots to overthrow the Palestinian government in the West Bank and replace it with Hamas terrorists.
In the time since the Shalit deal, "Hamas men have come and gone" from Turkey, Schanzer wrote in Foreign Policy. "But one thing is clear:The Hamas members who remain in Turkey are active. They attend local universities, join Turkish organizations, and play a role in its politics, and also appear to travel freely into and out of the country."
Other seasoned Hamas terrorists resident in Turkey include Mahmoud Attoun, who was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping a 29-year-old Israeli father before he was released during the 2011 Shalit deal.
Attoun, who publicly acknowledges that he lives in Turkey, is now "a rising star within Hamas," according to Schanzer, who noted in his piece that Attoun "advocates for Hamas around the region" and has appeared on television to honor Hamas terrorists.
"Attoun is also actively involved with the Hikmet Bilim Dostluk ve Yardimlasma Dernegi (HIKMET), a Turkish NGO associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and has spoken at one of their events," Schanzer wrote in his report.
Taysir Suleiman, another Hamas militant now residing in Turkey, was sentenced to life in prison for murdering an Israeli soldier in 1993. He also was set free under the 2011 prisoner release.
"Today, he openly notes on his Facebook profile that he lives in Istanbul, and he appeared alongside Hamas political bureau leader Khaled Meshaal in a video dated March 2012 in the city," according to Schanzer.
"That same summer, he traveled to Southeast Asia and Tunisia, where he presented slide shows to students about the al-Qassam Brigades," he wrote. "In October 2013, Suleiman was featured in an hour-long special on the al-Quds TV station celebrating his release from Israeli prison."
Officials at the Turkish Embassy in Washington said they had no information on the issue and therefore could not comment.
Turkey has been criticized in the past for acting as a leading hub for terrorists and has made moves to strengthen its alliance with Iran.
Turkey and Iran were found to be engaging in a scheme to skirt U.S. sanctions on Tehran by trading gold for oil.