June 22, 2010
Portrait of Bülent Yildirim, leader of the radical Islamic Turkish IHH and his central role in preparing the aid convoy and violent confrontation with the IDF
1. Bülent Fahmi Yildirim, 44, was born in Erzurum, Turkey, and studied law at Istanbul University. Today he lives in Istanbul and practices law. He is married and has four children. In 1995 the events in Bosnia and Herzegovina prompted him to help found IHH with the primary intention of providing humanitarian assistance to the battle zones.1 He eventually came to lead the organization. In the past IHH has been involved in providing logistic support for global jihad and terrorist networks in the Middle East and beyond. Bülent Yildirim’s name was also mentioned in the past as providing support for the global jihad.
4. Bülent Yildirim was the moving spirit behind the last flotilla and the most senior figure to accompany it on its journey. It began with purchasing the ship, organizing contributions and drawing up a list of passengers. Organizing the flotilla necessitated a long series of preparations and a vast organizational system which maintained contact with hundreds of organizations and operatives around the globe, most of them affiliated with radical Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood, and some of them pro-Palestinian from Western relief organizations.
7. IHH, headed by Bülent Yildirim, has close ties with Hamas and also provides it with funding. To further its activity with Hamas it established a branch in the Gaza Strip headed by IHH operative Muhammad Kaya. In January 2009 Bülent Yildirim met with Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus. Mashaal thanked him for his organization’s support for Hamas.
8. In February 2009, after Operation Cast Lead, Yildirim visited the Gaza Strip and met with Ismail Haniya, head of the de facto Hamas administration. During his visit he attended a rally in the Gaza Strip in support of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, who criticized Operation Cast Lead at the Davos Convention.
10. Senior IHH personnel dealt with the practical preparations for the flotilla, in our assessment with the coordination and collaboration of senior figures in the Turkish government. Apparently most of the practical coordination and logistical preparations were carried out by Yavus Dede, Yildirim’s deputy, and not by Yildirim himself. The preparations included purchasing the passenger ship Mavi Marmara and two cargo ships, in our assessment with the support and funding of the Turkish government.
13. During the voyage itself Bülent Yildirim had practical control of the Mavi Marmara and in fact of the entire flotilla. He prepared the operatives for battle, briefed them before the confrontation and ordered them to fight the IDF soldiers. In our assessment he was in continuous contact with the organization’s land command, where his deputy was in charge (and possibly with representatives of other organizations).
20. During the takeover of the ship Bülent Yildirim was detained by IDF forces, brought to Israel, questioned, released (along with the other passengers) and sent back to Turkey. Under questioning he denied that the operatives had been organized for violence and that weapons had been prepared. He said that if there had been violence on the part of the passengers it was spontaneous and made use only of “available objects” (the vast amount of evidence in Israeli possession unequivocally proves that the version provided by Yildirim is not true).
21. As opposed to what he said during questioning, interviewed after his return to Turkey he did not contradict the fact that he and his men had used violence in dealing with the IDF soldiers and he even had a “legal” explanation. On June 4, 2010, the Turkish newspaper Zaman wrote that when Yildirim returned to Turkey he told newspapermen at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul that the Israeli investigators had asked him if he and his men had attacked the soldiers with iron bars and axes. He said that “we did what we did in self-defense,” adding that “first our comrades neutralized ten soldiers. Yes, we took their guns away from them. You are considered legally innocent if you take a weapon away from someone who attacks you.” He also said that they threw the guns they took from the soldiers into the sea (Todayzaman.com, June 4, 2010).Appendix
Selected remarks by Bülent Yildirim (to the media and to IHH operatives aboard the Mavi Marmara)
1. The flotilla would be a “test” for Israel. He said that if Israel opposed it, it would be considered “a declaration of war” on the countries to which the activists on board belonged (Press conference in Istanbul, April 7, 2010).
2. He advised Israel to take care in conducting the crisis. If Israel prevented the activity of the ship, it would remain isolated in the world and harm itself (Yildirim to Israel at the sailing of the Mavi Marmara from Antalya, May 23, 2010).
3. “We are determined to enter Gaza, regardless of what happens” (During a press conference in Antalya before the ships set sail).
4. He said that children were brought aboard to prevent Israel from attacking the ship. He added that the organizers of the flotilla were in no hurry to set sail and were waiting for the right time, and perhaps in the meantime Israel “would begin thinking logically” (Interview aboard the ship, May 30, 2010).
5. “Form a human chain and throw the IDF soldiers back into the sea using chairs and iron bars” (Briefing the operatives on the upper deck before the IDF took control of the ship).
6. “The time before morning,” he said, “will be a war of nerves. There are passengers from more than 50 countries aboard, and if we are stopped the honor of 50 countries will be sullied. We want the entrance of the Israeli embassies in Istanbul and Ankara locked, and we will protect themselves on board the ship. We know there is a price and we are willing to pay it. We will not retreat one step. Israel is acting like a pirate in international waters. Will the world look on from the side?” (Press conference held during preparations for the confrontation with the IDF).
7. In a speech held during the voyage he said the following about Israel: “They are so weak that for the past four or five days they have been making propaganda against us and our flotilla. They see themselves as governing, but in reality they do not. Now they say that they will send the fleet [against us], that they will send in their commando and we tell them, if you send in the commando, we will throw you down from here and you will be humiliated before the whole world.” (From a video found aboard the Mavi Marmara).
1 The organization was actually founded in 1992 but was officially registered in 1995.
2 See http://www.diis.dk/graphics/Publications/WP2006/DIIS%20WP%202006-7.web.pdf.
3 Izat Shahin is an IHH operative who was sent to establish an IHH branch in Judea and Samaria. His main activity was transferring funds to Hamas “charitable societies.” He was detained for questioning in April 2010 and later deported at an official Turkish request.
4 For further information see the June 10, 2010 bulletin, “IHH Leader and Other Islamist Activists Incite Passengers to Violence Aboard the Mavi Marmara” at
(israel-palestijnen.blogspot.com / 20.05.2011)