Russian And Turkish Conspiracy Theories Swirl After Paris Attacks

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Last updated: January 12, 2015 6:40 pm

Russian And Turkish Conspiracy Theories Swirl After Paris Attacks

Daniel Dombey in Istanbul and Courtney Weaver in MoscowAuthor alerts

Barely 24 hours after Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister, joined millions marching in Paris to pay tribute to the 17 people killed by Islamist extremists, the country’s president struck a much more confrontational tone.

“The duplicity of the west is obvious,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a press conference on Monday evening. “As Muslims we have never sided with terror or massacres: racism, hate speech, Islamophobia are behind these massacres.”

“The culprits are clear: French citizens undertook this massacre and Muslims were blamed for it,” he added.

Although political leaders in Turkey have repeatedly condemned the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine, a Jewish supermarket and a policewoman, a parallel narrative has emerged in the country, with conspiracy theorists blaming the murders on foreign intelligence agencies rather than radical Islamists.

A similar phenomenon has occurred in Russia, which sent Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister, to Sunday’s march.

Some such theories have been endorsed by pro-government figures — highlighting the growing resentment and suspicion of the west in two strategically important countries at a time of rising tensions over Ukraine and the Middle East.

“In Turkey, at least, it looks dangerously like people are playing a double game,” said Aaron Stein of the Royal United Services Institute, a UK think-tank. “Issue condemnations that play internationally, even as you tolerate supporters pushing crazy opinions that appeal to your political base.”

Melih Gokcek, mayor of Ankara for the ruling AK party, said on Monday that “Mossad [the Israeli intelligence service] is definitely behind such incidents . . . it is boosting enmity towards Islam.” Mr Gokcek linked the attacks to French moves towards recognizing Palestine.

Ali Sahin, a member of Turkey’s parliament and foreign affairs spokesman for the AK party, last week set out eight reasons why he suspected the killings were staged so that “the attack will be blamed on Muslims and Islam”.

Mehmet Gormez, director of the state-run religious affairs directorate, described the attacks as a “perception operation” that cynically used the symbols of Islam, although he later appeared to tone down his comments.

In his own remarks on Monday, Mr Erdogan added: “Games are being played throughout the Islamic world”. He expressed bewilderment that French intelligence services had not followed the culprits more effectively. However, he has mainly appeared to hint at a conspiracy behind the depiction of the killings rather than the murders themselves.

In Russia, some pro-Kremlin commentators sought to link the killings to geopolitical machinations by the US.

Komsomolskaya Pravda, one of Russia’s leading tabloids, ran the headline: “Did the Americans stage the terror attack in Paris?” and posted a series of interviews on its website that presented various reasons why Washington might have organised the attack.

In one interview, Alexander Zhilin, head of the pro-Kremlin Moscow Centre for the Study of Applied Problems, claimed the terror attack was US retribution against President François Hollande for a January 6 radio interview in which Mr Hollande urged the EU to lift sanctions against Russia.

Washington used the attacks as “a quick fix for consolidating” US and EU geopolitical interests in Ukraine, Mr Zhilin claimed.

Others repeated a popular Russian conspiracy theory blaming the US intelligence services for a swath of terrorist assaults, from the 9/11 attacks on the US to last week’s Paris killings.

“For the last 10 years, so-called Islamist terrorism has been under the control of one of the world’s leading intelligence agencies,” Alexei Martynov, director of the International Institute for New States, a think-tank, told pro-Kremlin internet outlet LifeNews. “I am sure that some American supervisors are responsible for the terror attacks in Paris, or in any case the Islamists who carried them out.”

Additional reporting by Funja Guler

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