Western intelligence agencies say Hamas has cyberwarfare headquarters in Turkey

Western intelligence services have discovered a cyberwarfare centre in Istanbul run by Palestinian militant group Hamas, The Times reported on Thursday.

Hamas were founded as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 1987 and have been the de-facto governing authority in the Gaza Strip since 2007. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar hopes to take over the leadership of the Palestinian Authority from Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The Times said the Hamas cyberwarfare centre in Istanbul was set up two years ago, and is separate from the official Hamas offices, which deal with coordination and funding. The centre was reportedly set up without the knowledge of the Turkish government, and its operatives did not notify the Turkish government of its presence.

The unit is led by Samakh Saraj, a senior Hamas figure located in Gaza who reports to Yayha Sinwar. Its objective is to purchase dual use equipment which can be used to make weapons, coordinate cyber operations against Hamas’ enemies in the Arab world, and spy on Hamas’ own members.

Blockades imposed on Gaza have left Hamas “needing other footholds,” The Times said.

Hamas is thought to be constrained within Gaza, with Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups in other countries having reduced in their capacity to act following the fallout from the Arab Spring.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been attempting to carve out a larger role for himself as a leader of the Muslim world, and has been closely aligned with Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups in a number of countries, including Egypt and Syria. Erdoğan  allowed Hamas to open an office in Istanbul in 2012.

“However, it operates under the watchful eye of the authorities, leading to the setting up of the offshoot HQ, whose operations are unknown to the Turkish security services”, The TImes said.

Last month, Turkey facilitated talks between Hamas and Fatah aimed at holding Palestinian elections in 2021.