The hard thing for the conspiracy-minded to understand is that most of the world as we see it is the truth. Most of the things that we think happen behind closed doors actually do happen. It is just that some politicians are better at covering their tracks than others.
It is amazing how much one can find out by investigating those who never really bother to hide things too carefully – such as bank accounts in the United States or in Israel that contain pieces of a war chest for a Malaysian politician named Anwar Ibrahim. One might find behind-the-scenes connections to Wahhabi agents from Riyadh, or even occult money and political schemes launched together with the Islamist-leaning leaders of modern Turkey.
We are not speaking here of clandestine operations, but of money transfers and laundering; of special accounts in Turkey for financing Malaysian political operations; of mobile and barelyconcealed political operatives; and even of a Turkish foreign minister with university experience in Malaysia, a true Islamist radical, who got all wrapped up in political plotting in Malaysia with and on behalf of his friend Anwar. We are speaking of Anwar’s support for Turkey’s AKP party through political and media channels. Much of this was financed by Anwar’s money, some of it going back to pay Turkish political operatives who would enter Malaysia to assist Anwar.
I have spoken extensively of Anwar’s ties, from his student radical days all the way to the present, to the most extreme of the Saudi oligarchs, both in terms of ideology and in terms of funding. Anwar was hardly their only project, though they have long taken a special interest in him. Everywhere Muslims were governed by secular – or, worse to their eyes, moderate Muslim – governments, there the Saudis have planted their flag. Money, material, logistics, teaching, and training – they have supplied it all, funded by the world’s use of their only natural resource.
This was true in Indonesia, though that project has been much less successful than elsewhere. Singapore locked them out. The Chinese have been brutal with Wahhabi missionaries in Xinjiang Province, but the House of Saud is nothing if not patient. The former Soviet republics in Central Asia have been ripe for the plucking, though their leadership also has a somewhat severe approach to unwanted radicals.
Turkey has long been a central dream of the Islamists. The home of the last Caliphate, the Ottomans swept with fire and death and righteous fervour through Asia and Europe, tossing aside the tottering old Islamic sultans and lesser caliphs and Europeans alike. Stopped only at Lepanto and at the gates Vienna, for hundreds of years they were the scourge of Europe and Christendom, and turned whole nations of devout Christians into fervent Muslim warriors.
The Ottomans were what every little jihadi wants to be when he grows up. Bringing them into the Wahhabi fold – despite their decades-long policy of secular government, backed by a military fiercely committed to that ideal – would be one of the greatest coups of all.
It is in Turkey – through a portion of the I-Files that were never part of the original, and only added after furious searching when Anwar fled to the Turkish Embassy in 2008 – that we can see how Anwar was specially connected to the worldwide Wahhabi movement, and how it has become one of his touchstones.
I beg your indulgence as we leap ahead to when I first began to wonder about these things, as for once my network of informants was only as fast as the local media, and I turned on the telly to observe Anwar doing his best (and most melodramatic) impersonation of a political refugee fearing for his life and running to the Turkish Embassy in KL.
By 2008, I was flitting in and out of Malaysia with some frequency. My wife and children would usually accompany me, along with a train of tutors, aides, and secretaries. While Anwar’s release from prison some years before had been quite the bit of news, and had generated a renewed burst of intelligence gathering, I had left most of the day-to-day operations with my subordinates as I tended to unrelated concerns on the other side of the world.
We had returned in late June when I got a call on my mobile from my office. I almost sent it straight to voice mail, but instead picked up.
“You must turn on TV3. Now.” With that, my secretary hung up. I assumed something important had happened, so I did as I was bidden.
My first thought was Sodomy, again? I am hardly privy to Anwar’s sexual escapades, but the rumours of his infidelity, with both men and women, had circulated long before Mahathir ejected him from Government, and even on his successful appeal, the court made clear to underline its thoughts on his sexual behaviour. But that thought was quickly lost in the more interesting details of Anwar’s flight to the Turkish embassy.
Anwar’s persistent melodrama was piled high in this caper: He ran to the Turkish embassy and posted a statement on his blog, saying that political developments have put his life in danger. “Certain agents” of Barisan Nasional “have initiated plots” to harm him, he said.
Even better, Anwar said, “I have been told that my assassination has not been ruled out as means to subvert the people’s will and bring an end to the transformational changes taking place in Malaysia.”
This would be unbelievable in a poor novel, so bad no author would expect an audience to believe it. But Anwar did.
After watching for a while the sordid Anwar-flees-to-the-Turkish-embassy story, I picked up my Blackberry and sent off a single instruction to my team.
Stop watching the bloody tube and find out why he ran first to Turkey. Why Turkey?
Of course, to answer that question, we would first need to learn more about Turkey and its government, something I’d eschewed as the country had drifted gradually in the direction of more radical Islam over time. With the exception of Malaysia during Anwar’s time in Government, I’d had an iron-clad rule that no funds of mine would support people who would force sh’ria on a people. I’d had quite enough of that kind of brutality from the Soviets, thank you.
SUBECT: SECRET OPPOSITION LEADER CABLE TRAFFIC
DATE: 2008-06-28 2215 GMT+8 (SEND GMT-6)
CENTWIRE informs of increase in traffic into EMB-TURKEY since 2000 KLT from surrogates for Opposition Leader ANWAR IBRAHIM and from QUALITY HOTEL in Shah Alam. Cause unclear. Sources in PKRHQ inform us that ANWAR IBRAHIM to make some sort of announcement at EMB-TURKEY.
PM-TURKEY and FM-TURKEY old associates of ANWAR IBRAHIM. DOSSIERS from ANK already sent ON-PR-1. Should be present in KL by 1 p.m. tomorrow.
SECSTATE has asked for updates.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Islamist party were the first, and most obvious stop. As with so many Wahhabi machinations, the truth was fairly easily discovered – at least on the surface.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Anwar and Erdoğan had been frequent and devout attendees at conferences, youth gatherings, and academic events held in Saudi Arabia for the network of protégés the Saudis developed over time. They were able to put aside their secular political leanings – Anwar was enamoured of Marxism, Erdoğan a devout anti-communist – because of a belief in a purifying strain of radical Islam that could bring the world a little closer to perfection, and a belief in presenting this strain to the electorate through the lens of apparently moderate Islam.
Erdoğan was a prime pupil, a man who hated the communists (as the Saudis did), who hated the Jews (as the Saudis did), who was possessed of enormous energy and drive (as the Saudis were), and who, it was felt, could blend into the mainstream of Turkey’s society and slowly alter its course (as the Saudis could not). His political career mirrored Anwar’s in critical ways – the convert to the mainstream, the respected secular leader (as mayor of Istanbul) whose radical trappings seemed to largely disappear, the imprisoned political hero held out of national elections.
Whilst they diverged in Erdoğan’s successful return to politics, and rise to the Prime Minister’s slot, they shared the critical feature of Saudi backing and patronage in common. Prince Nayef, of the House of Saud, backed both Anwar and Erdoğan, as well as their respective parties, because Nayef – an odd, self-impressed little man, to be sure – is as canny as anyone who has ever lived. It is no coincidence that both Anwar’s and Erdoğan’s parties use ‘Justice’ in their titles – Nayef is a great fan of the word, though he sees its meaning differently than most.
He has long seen Anwar and Erdoğan as his best bets, as the first line of assault in bringing their two countries into the Wahhabi fold, and so he poured and continues to pour Saudi assets and money into both Erdoğan’s and Anwar’s parties, advancing them and their causes. With both, he has been successful. Erdoğan not only normalised relations with Saudi Arabia – a first after four decades of estrangement after the House of Saud first attempted to gain a beachhead there – but also invited King Abdullah, the man who with his brother Fahd had first poisoned relations between the two states, to not one, but two ceremonial visits to Istanbul.
More importantly, Erdoğan successfully broke the army’s historic role in maintaining Ataturk’s policy of a secular sphere once and for all. When Erdoğan’s moves signaled the return of creeping Islamism, the Army attempted to intervene to restore the secular balance. Generals resigned, but Erdoğan managed not only to hold his government together, but to unilaterally replace those generals with his stooges, thus breaking the army’s sworn duty to uphold the secular state once and for all.
Policy followed leadership, and soon Erdoğan was driving his country to closer relationships with Saudi Arabia, lifting the decades-long ban on headscarves (whilst his NGOs began proselytising their use and his wife wore them at every occasion), and eroding Ataturk’s successful creation of a powerful, modern state, all while a gullible Western press looked on.
That was no coincidence; Erdoğan and Anwar share not only funding, but the same media operations, even some of the same strategists for campaigns, who are expert at bringing gullible Western reporters on junkets to Georgetown, Istanbul, Ankara, and Kuala Lumpur, building influence the old-fashioned way.
He and Anwar remained very close, and Erdoğan was one of Anwar’s preferred guests while the latter was Deputy Prime Minister. Under the cover of advancing Islamic governance in the modern world, the two men hosted each other in countless conferences and official meetings in Kuala Lumpur and Istanbul in the 1990s, and Anwar continues to make Istanbul one of his homes away from home even now.
Their ventures together – a veritable smorgasbord of benign-sounding non-governmental organisations – simply expanded the aegis under which the two men, especially Anwar, have been able to operate: The Global Peace Mission, the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World, the Future Global Network, the World Futures Online, the World Civilisation Research Group, the Center for Study of Islam & Democracy – the list goes on for some time. These entities operate and operated out of Malaysia, Turkey, London, and the United States, serving the dual purpose of providing funding and intellectual legitimacy for both men as they reached out abroad.
It is no secret that the Al Baraka bank – the source of so much of Anwar’s financial strength – has also backed Erdoğan, maintaining offices in Istanbul for precisely that purpose. That relationship began in earnest in the 1980s, when Erdoğan’s first political party was dissolved for preaching radical Islam, and continues to this day. Through Al Baraka and their own web of funding entities, the two men sponsored strident – if iconoclastic – Islamic radicals such as Hassan al-Turabi in Sudan and others who argued for the imposition of sh’ria law on Muslims everywhere.
When the American government began to close in on the IIIT – Anwar’s central source of legitimacy and an element of his laundering – the Institute began moving its assets to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, in coordination with the NGOs Anwar and Erdoğan had established for precisely that purpose. When the remainder of Anwar’s NGOs in the US came under further scrutiny, he shut most of them down, one by one, moving their assets and offices to the friendliest country he knew – Turkey.
When Anwar was released from prison, and began to reconstruct his political and economic fortunes, he turned to the only two sources he truly trusted: Erdoğan and the Saudis. With their extensive network of NGOs, proxy accounts, reserve funds, and funding opportunities, Anwar was able to quickly re-establish himself politically and financially.
Yet it was not only on Erdoğan that Anwar relied, but also later on Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, as well. Davutoğlu is in many ways Anwar’s truest friend in the AKP – an intellectual, a professor, and a believer in a creed that he refuses to call neo-Ottoman but which calls for Turkey to once again be at the centre of the Islamic world, guiding a new Caliphate to glory. This was not Davutoğlu’s original idea, but the idea that fired his imagination, and drove him to seek out like-minded men wherever they may be found.
It was no coincidence that Davutoğlu was briefly a student and, more importantly, a professor at IIU during Anwar’s days overseeing the institution, an intellectual who happily brought Saudi theology to once-moderate Malaysia. He was on the leading edge of renewed relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, working hand-in-glove with Saudi Arabia’s policy establishment to bring the two countries closer, a project he had imagined during the days and nights discussing hudud with Anwar.
When Anwar needed a stage for his Theatre of the Absurd – when he needed a true ally who would never question Anwar’s ridiculous claims to being in mortal peril over a sodomy charge – Anwar knew there was one embassy, and one foreign ministry, that would not look askance, and would never publicly question the entire stunt.
And so it was that he fled to the Turkish Embassy when faced with new sodomy charges. While many news reports claimed that Anwar had considered several possible refuges, there was really only one he trusted to sever ties with Putrajaya if need be, one where he knew staunch friends were waiting. And so he used his Turkish connection.
SUBECT: SECRET M-OPP/EMB-TURKEY
DATE: 2008-06-30 1402 GMT-6 (SEND GMT+8)
FULL UPDATE SENT BY CYPH-WIRE.
Review of DOSSIERS shows extensive ties between ANWAR IBRAHIM and PMTURKEY and FM-TURKEY. GOV-TURKEY filled with ANWAR contacts. CS-ANK informs that EMB-TURK BARLAS OZENER agreed to assist ANWAR with scene at request of FM-TURKEY.
ANWAR IBRAHIM has now departed EMB-TURKEY. Extensive wire traffic between EMBTURKEY and FM-MALAYSIA suggesting poisoned relations. EMB-TURKEY for FMTURKEY informed ANWAR to depart, ANWAR departed ahead of demand.
NO SOURCES show substantiation of “death threats” as ANWAR IBRAHIM claimed on 6.29.2008. OPS in PM-MALAYSIA completely unaware of same.
GOV-MALAYSIA’s judiciary’s independence was in some doubt decade ago after PM-MALAYSIA MAHATHIR MOHAMAD. ANWAR IBRAHIM claims new sodomy charges attempt to end his return to politics. Not clear. ANWAR IBRAHIM has known penchant for street politics and street theater. Expect last two days to feature in protests.
The entirety of the material related to Anwar and his ties to Erdoğan took time to develop, and it was not until after the fateful 16 September 2008 promise was made – and abandoned – that it was usefully collated. My compatriots and I only discussed it briefly at the time, but the more we dug the more we discovered. And ultimately we found that an active financial and political channel between Anwar and his Islamist friends in Turkey was a key to understanding his plans, dreams and tactics.
As I noted before, I fear I have quite gotten ahead of myself. It is perhaps time to return to the central narrative, and resume where we left off: With Anwar growing his war chest, and preparing to replace Mahathir once and for all. This is perhaps the most remarkable part of the story, for it was the first time Anwar had so badly miscalculated when chance thrust his opportunity on him.
It begins with Mahathir’s recognition that he’d clutched a cobra to his bosom.
Here, though we did not realise it at the time, is where the Saudis first began to redouble their efforts with both men. Erdoğan’s sentence for revealing his radical roots – by calling for a religious uprising in the form of a poem at a political demonstration – virtually overlapped with Anwar’s sacking after his coup attempt failed. Unwilling to abandon assets developed over the course of nearly three decades, the Saudis began applying monetary, political, and diplomatic pressure to preserve both men, with indifferent success.
Their attempts to save Anwar began almost immediately with Mahathir’s swift measures. It is a story – from Anwar’s first betrayal through his successful appeal – that is almost as remarkable as what came before, and its reach – from Washington to Riyadh to Ankara to Putrajaya – brings together all of the things that brought Anwar so close to power in the late 1990s, even though he was doomed to fail. The length and breadth of it is, however, a tale for next time.