“We don’t have any evidence. The press release was based on information from the [Israeli] National Security Council.” (The Israeli National Security Council is Netanyahu’s kitchen cabinet of advisors).
The source for Stephens’ assertion, however, is this Danish Institute study (PDF) that does indeed persuasively show links between IHH and al Qaeda in the 1990s:
An examination of IHH’s phone records in Istanbul showed repeated telephone calls in 1996 to an Al-Qaida guesthouse in Milan and various Algerian terrorist operatives active elsewhere in Europe – including the notorious Abu el-Ma`ali, who has been subsequently termed by U.S. officials as a “junior Osama Bin Laden.”
During the later Seattle trial of would-be Al-Qaida Millenium bomber Ahmed Ressam, federal prosecutors called French magistrate Bruguiere to the stand as an expert witness. Bruguieretestified that IHH had played “[a]n important role” in the Al-Qaida Millenium bomb plot targeting LAX. Under repeated questioning, Bruguiere insisted that “[t]here’s a rather close relation”:
The IHH is an NGO, but it was kind of a type of cover-up… in order to obtain forged documents and also to obtain different forms of infiltration for Mujahi- deen in combat. And also to go and gather[recruit] these Mujahideens. And finally, one of the last responsibilities that they had was also to be implicated or involved in weapons trafficking.
It’s important to note the Islamist ties of IHH, and its past relationship with al Qaeda. What we cannot say is if any al Qaeda members were on board the ship, the Mavi Marmara. In fact, we simply have no evidence to back that up at all. One might have thought that taking the word of Cheney’s Netanyahu’s kitchen cabinet about al Qaeda links might be a little radioactive after the Iraq war. But no. We’re back where we were.