Is Britain Cracking Down on PKK Terrorist Activity?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 16 December 2017

Pro-PKK demonstrators in Frankfurt, Germany, 18 March 2017, REUTERS / Ralph Orlowski

The BBC reported yesterday that on 7 December the Metropolitan Police Service arrested four people—two 17-year-old boys, a 38-year-old woman, and a 50-year-old woman—were arrested in the Haringey area of north London as part of a probe into terrorist fundraising, through money laundering and fraud. The terrorist group at issue is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and those arrested are believed to have contributed to the PKK’s finances through sale and distribution of one of the PKK’s most important propaganda instruments, the Yeni Ozgur Politika (New Free Politics) newspaper. Time will tell if this is a one-off or the beginning of a serious and long-overdue attempt to curtail the PKK’s propaganda-recruitment activity and fundraising in the West.


As described in great detail in a recent paper for The Henry Jackson Society, the PKK begins in Turkey in 1978 as a small organisation that mixes Marxism-Leninism, Kurdish separatism, and a cult around its leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The PKK spent most of its time in the late 1970s fighting other Left-wing and Kurdish groups to monopolise the political space, and was then driven from Turkey by the violent military coup of September 1980. The PKK took shelter in Syria, then-run by Hafiz al-Asad, the father of the current tyrant, Bashar al-Asad. With the assistance of the Asad regime and the Soviet Union—working through Palestinian militant groups like the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—the PKK created an army that launched a war against NATO’s Turkey in August 1984, reaching its heights in the early-to-mid-1990s.

As part of its preparations, the PKK began constructing a network in Europe in 1981 that was to generate the resources—namely money and fighters—for the terrorist campaign against Turkey. This is hardly unique to the PKK. Many jihadist terrorist groups, such as Hizballah, the Lebanese branch of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), make an enormous amount of money by simple, criminal practices like credit card scams in Western states. And diaspora-funded, non-Islamist terror-insurgencies are likewise common, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka being a classic case.

The PKK’s revenue-generating schemes in Europe are based on organised criminal activity, and indeed the structure of the PKK has led to some academic debate about how to classify the organisation—is it a criminal syndicate that does terrorism, or a terrorist organisation that engages in organised crime? The revenue streams include narcotics, which has led to sanctions by the U.S. Treasury department against senior PKK officials; human trafficking, including the exploitation of refugees; money laundering and counterfeiting; and the smuggling of legal items like tea and tobacco.

Read the rest at The Henry Jackson Society

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