Turkish national’s attack in Jerusalem draws attention to ‘Jihad tourism’ trend

The stabbing highlights Turkish efforts to quietly expand influence in eastern Jerusalem, over the last decade.

By Baruch Yedid, TPS

It was unusual, but hardly surprising, that Turkish national Hassan Saklanan tried to stab an Israeli police officer in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

Saklanan was shot and killed by responding officers in Jerusalem’s Old City.

According to Turkish media reports, the 34-year-old Saklanan was an imam from the southern Turkish city of Sanliurfa and was part of an official Religious Affairs delegation.

Turkish reports added that Saklanan did not participate in the delegation’s tour that day, saying he wasn’t feeling well.

Terror attacks by foreign nationals in Israel are not common, but the stabbing draws attention to efforts to quietly expand Turkish influence in eastern Jerusalem — particularly in the Old City — over the past decade.

This includes a surge in reports of Turks participating in disturbances on the Temple Mount.

It is widely believed that these individuals are backed by the Turkish government and institutions.

In eastern Jerusalem, Palestinians refer to the practice as “Jihad Tourism.”

Turkish associations have undertaken significant renovation projects, revitalizing numerous houses and mosques in the Old City.

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Moreover, Turkish-financed guest accommodations have sprung up, offering free lodging to Turkish visitors.

The streets of the Old City are now adorned with Turkish goods, while signs of Turkish aid agencies, such as the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) are prominently displayed.

Israeli officials accuse TIKA of undermining Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

As The Press Service of Israel reported in May 2023, TIKA says it seeks to “strengthen the Palestinian steadfastness in Jerusalem.”

The agency stopped its activities in the city in 2019 when Israeli officials threatened to revoke the diplomatic status of the heads of the TIKA’s Jerusalem office.

Then-Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused TIKA of supporting the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas and of trying to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.

But as Israel and Turkey restored full diplomatic ties in January 2023, TIKA returned to Jerusalem.

Other Turkish institutions include the Turkish Heritage Association, also known as Miratna, which has vowed to actively prevent Israel’s “Judaization of Jerusalem.”

Miratna provides food packages and financial assistance to needy families, renovates houses, offers educational programs, and works to preserve Islamic heritage sites.

One other organization is Kutad, an Istanbul-based charity organization that is run by Hamas, raising concerns about potential links between Turkish interests and other extremist groups.

Kutad’s self-described role “is to protect the Islamic historical heritage in Jerusalem and to be a cultural bridge between Turkey and Palestine and Jerusalem.”

Hamas doesn’t normally frame its Jerusalem rhetoric by referencing the Ottoman Empire, but such references play well to the terror group’s Turkish hosts.

Kutad also finances construction projects in eastern Jerusalem, primarily homes and mosques.

According to Kutad, by building homes in eastern Jerusalem, Muslims create what is called in Arabic, ribat, which literally means a “battle line,” but refers to a tangible claim on the land.

The Press Service of Israel also reported that both Miratna and Kutad have supported Ramadan violence by paying people to stay on the Temple Mount to maintain a 24-hour Muslim presence on the holy site.

It isn’t known if Saklanan was in contact with any of those Turkish groups before carrying out his attack.