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By Harut Sassounian
While it was widely publicized that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, very little was reported about similar meddling by Turkey.
The U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC) released on March 15, 2021 a declassified report which confirmed Turkish hackers’ cyber-attack in the 2020 election on Joe Biden’s campaign website, to support President Donald Trump.
This should not come as a surprise to anyone, given the warm personal relationship between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Trump. Erdogan made weekly phone calls to the White House securing President Trump’s agreement on many pro-Turkish issues. Erdogan was certain that Biden would not be as accommodating as Trump.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a dissident Turkish investigative journalist living in Stockholm, Sweden, confirmed the Turkish hacking scheme by publishing the details in the Nordic Monitor on March 25, 2021.
The NIC disclosed that the Turkish group RootAyyıldız hacked the Biden-Harris presidential campaign website in October and November 2020. “Hackers promoting Turkish nationalist themes breached and defaced a website previously established for a candidate in the U.S. presidential campaign, according to US cybersecurity press,” the NIC reported.
“The Turkish hackers posted a nationalist and Islamist message that by and large repeated the narrative often promoted by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials in Turkey, led by President Erdogan,” Bozkurt wrote.
The Hackers placed on the Biden-Harris website the photos of President Erdogan and Sultan Abdulhamid II, named Red Sultan because of the massacres of 300,000 Armenians from 1894 to 1896.
“The hackers identified themselves as ‘Turkish Muslim Defacer’ and emphasized that they follow the Turkish president, described as ‘Reis’ (Chief) in the posted message, and are on the path of a Turkish Islamist jihadist campaign to dominate the world. The opposition political parties were alleged to have been supported by the US, and the hackers warned of further consequences if the U.S. did not leave Turkey alone,” reported Bozkurt.
Here is the translation of the Turkish hackers’ message left on the Biden-Harris website:
“We made the ablution [used here as a means to clean oneself to get ready to be a martyr in jihad] before and set out on a journey, we said our own funeral prayer, we sharpened our blade for our brother. We made our pledge to the Great Sultan [late Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, an authoritarian ruler revered by Islamist circles in Turkey]. We will kill for Reis [Chief — President Erdogan] anybody who sets their eyes on our [Turkish-Islamic] cause.
“Damn those who live for money and fame, greetings to those who live for the Islamic cause. From here, I warn the U.S.-backed, so-called [opposition] political parties like the CHP [main opposition Republican People’s Party], HDP [pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party] and the Iyi [conservative/nationalist Good] Party.
“We’ll be your nightmare if you don’t take your hands off my [Turkish] state, my nation. We will make you afraid of walking in the street [in shame] by revealing your most private conversations.
“RootAyyıldız is not a group or organization but a patriot who fights alone. We hail anybody who fights for Turk and Islam. May Allah be our help. We do not use social media. Don’t be fooled by fake accounts.”
The hackers wrote under the photo of Erdogan and Abdulhamid II: “We are the ones who stopped the tanks with our bare hands on the night of July 15 [2016 failed coup]. We are those who killed death that night. We have been waiting for Archers’ Hill for 15 centuries [a reference to a scene in the Battle of Uhud fought by the Muslim Prophet Muhammad]! We are the keepers of that red [Turkish] flag that will never abandon its shadow on us.” Archers’ Hill is frequently mentioned by Erdogan in his campaign rallies.
Bozkurt added: “RootAyyıldız is believed to have connections to elements of the Turkish government, specifically with intelligence agency MIT and the police department. Its attacks on foreign governments, entities and individuals have coincided with the growing noise among Turkish officials who leveled harsh criticism and threats against such foreign governments, entities and individuals.”
Bozkurt ended his article revealing that the Turkish hackers group RootAyyıldız “also targeted the Greek government and institutions during the heightened tension between the two countries in August 2020. The official website of the Bihar Education Department in India was hacked in August 2019 by RootAyyıldız, which posted messages in praise of Pakistan and Islam. In October 2020, the group hacked the Armenian Football Federation’s website during the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and posted messages in support of Azerbaijan.”
In a separate article by the Reuters news agency, titled: “Hackers acting in Turkey’s interests believed to be behind recent cyberattacks,” Turkish hackers attacked at least 30 organizations, including Albanian, Cypriot and Greek government email services, the website of the national security advisor of Iraq, embassies and security services as well as companies and other groups.
“The attacks involve intercepting internet traffic to victim websites, potentially enabling hackers to obtain illicit access to the networks of government bodies and other organizations,” Reuters wrote.
“According to two British officials and one U.S. official, the activity bears the hallmarks of a state-backed cyber espionage operation conducted to advance Turkish interests,” Reuters wrote.
These hacking efforts by the Turkish government-linked group are yet another example of the violation of international laws and conventions by Turkey.