Erdogan-Linked Group Suspected of Being a Turkish Front in US
The group MUSIAD USA sent letters to several US senators last week, protesting sanctions the Trump administration imposed on Turkey over its continuing detention of American Pastor Andrew Brunson. MUSIAD is a business association connected with Turkey’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The group’s close links to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan led FBI agents to question MUSIAD USA’s leaders in 2016 on suspicion that they were engaged in political espionage on behalf of the Turkish government. The group also has close links with Islamists in the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO).
Despite its connection with Turkey’s ruling party, MUSIAD USA remains unregistered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). All who lobby on behalf of foreign governments are required to register under this law.
MUSIAD USA President Mustafa Tuncer, one of those questioned by the FBI, posted photos of the letters opposing the sanctions on Facebook.
Tuncer also sits on the board of the Turkish-government controlled Diyanet Center in Lanham, Maryland. Diyanet-controlled mosques in Europe have been accused of spying on behalf of Turkey and critics worry that the Diyanet Center is involved in similar activities.
“Senior MUSIAD figures work closely with Erdogan, coordinate their actions with his office, and operate as his long arm under the disguise of [a] business interest lobby group,” Abdullah Bozkurt, a former editor at Turkey’s Today’s Zaman, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
MUSIAD USA’s connection with Erdogan was highlighted after a Marxist hacking group leaked emails belonging to Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak to WikiLeaks. Albayrak is considered Erdogan’s heir apparent and was recently put in charge of running Turkey’s economy.
Albayrak learned that the FBI questioned MUSIAD officials in a September 2016 email from former Executive Director Ibrahim Uyar. Uyar noted that he organized a rally against the July 2016 Turkish coup attempt outside the White House. Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Executive Director Nihad Awad and USCMO Secretary General Oussama Jammal spoke at the rally. Tuncer and Uyar gave Awad a “plaque of appreciation” in 2014 on behalf of MUSIAD USA.
“The business group MUSIAD functions [as] yet another tool at the hands of current regime in Turkey to promote and export Erdogan-brand poisonous Islamist ideology overseas,” Bozkurt said.
Uyar has been promoted, Bozkurt said, and now oversees MUSIAD’s global branches. Uyar is listed on the board of MUSIAD’s main branch in Istanbul. It also describes him as the as “[c]hairman of Foreign Organization and Development Commission.”
Photos taken at the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa last month highlight Uyar’s closeness to Erdogan. Several shots showed him standing next to the Turkish president.
These connections highlight Erdogan’s backdoor effort to influence US policy towards Turkey under the cover of business concerns.
John Rossomando is a senior analyst at The Investigative Project on Terrorism.