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EXCLUSIVE: Turkey's interior ministry has suspended security cooperation with US

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu winding down ties with US security forces as he continues to accuse Washington of playing role in 2016 coup attempt
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu delivers a speech during a press conference in Ankara, on April 22, 2019. (AFP)
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Ankara

Suleyman Soylu, Turkey's interior minister, has gradually ended all practical cooperation between Turkish security forces and the US government since he entered office in 2016, Middle East Eye can reveal.

Soylu has suspended joint training and programmes between Turkish and American police forces, denied early US access to Turkish police intelligence on suspects, and refused to share information regarding ongoing Turkish investigations with American counterparts, a Turkish official told MEE.

"However, it didn’t completely impede the cooperation with the American authorities, because they were able to receive the relevant information once the investigations have been completed and submitted to the courts,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Soylu and Washington have a longstanding animosity. In 2018, the Trump administration temporarily sanctioned Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul over the arrest and detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a US citizen.

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The following year, the US again sanctioned Soylu and other Turkish officials over Turkey’s offensive against US-backed Kurds in northeastern Syria. “There hasn't been any change in my declaration of property since the last sanction,” he joked at the time. "I don’t have any properties in the US.”

Both designations have been short-term and later lifted. Yet they haven't stopped Soylu from stepping up verbal attacks on Washington and distancing his government from the administration of new US President Joe Biden. The interior minister has long accused the US of having a role in the failed 2016 coup, an allegation Washington forcefully denies.

People close to Soylu told MEE that he has always had suspicions over the US, and the sanctions against him only accelerated his steps to suspend cooperation with American security forces.

“The 15 July [coup attempt] in Turkey happened with an order from them [the US],” Soylu said on Wednesday in televised comments. “The UAE and the US are the perpetrators of 15 July. The UAE is the most important operational partner of the US.”

Soylu believes the US was behind the coup because it is harbouring Fethullah Gulen, the alleged mastermind of the putsch, along with his network of followers within the military. “The US sanctioned me two times for just saying that,” Soylu added.

The minister repeated the same allegation against the US in February, which sparked a condemnation and denial from the US State Department.

Soylu on Wednesday also revealed that he didn’t grant a meeting with the US ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield, even though the embassy was insistent. “I won’t award him any appointment. I would only do it if they begin to show respect to this country,’” he said.

Analysts in Turkey have been sizing up Soylu as a potential successor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, due to his unmatched popularity within the ranks of the ruling party.

Analysts believe Soylu could be a potential successor to President Erdogan (Reuters)
Analysts believe Soylu could be a potential successor to President Erdogan (Reuters)

The Turkish opposition has recently put significant pressure on Soylu over allegations of mismanagement and corruption raised by Sedat Peker, a convicted organised crime leader based in Dubai. Peker, in a series of videos posted on YouTube, claimed Soylu had been involved in deep state affairs that include turning a blind eye to narcotics trafficking.

Soylu strongly rejected the allegations, saying that Peker was a fugitive from the law who has also been involved with drug trafficking and extortion.

Under Soylu’s watch, the Turkish government has conducted a series of operations targeting drug shipments inside Turkey and international waters, seizing tonnes of cocaine and hashish.