In line with the Turkish government’s secret revolving door policy for detained jihadists, a suspect who admitted in court that he received arms training from the Taliban and fought against Americans was acquitted by a Turkish court.
According to documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, Turkish national Aslan Kayhan, a 36-year-old resident of Turkey’s southeastern province of Mersin, was charged with membership in the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) after an investigation revealed that he was actively working with jihadist groups, helping recruit people and raising funds, and possessed jihadist books.
He was detained on Jan. 10, 2016 but was later released. In his defense statement Kayhan admitted that he had gone to Afghanistan three times prior to 2008 to fight against US forces. “I got arms training from the Taliban on how to use an AK-47 and PKM Bixi machine gun and participated in clashes,” he said, adding that he used the code name “Seyfullah” while in Afghanistan.
Kayhan was detained in Pakistan and spent five months in jail before he was handed over to Turkish authorities. Upon his extradition to Turkey, Kayhan was released after giving a statement to the police. The start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, after which the civil war became a magnet for all sorts of radical groups, gave Kayhan another opportunity to engage in a jihadist campaign. Although he denied going to Syria, wiretap records show he had been in frequent contact with other jihadists in Turkey who often went into Syria to deliver supplies.
His case was originally handled by the Silifki High Criminal Court in Mersin province. Prosecutor Mehmet Çıtanak charged him and his associate Abdullah Soydal under Turkish Penal Code Article 314 (2) on March 21, 2016 with membership in ISIL in indictment No. 2016/635. But the Silifki court declined to try the case and instead referred it to the Mersin 2nd High Criminal Court. Kayhan did not even bother to appear before the panel of judges for the last hearing in the Mersin court on Sept. 2, 2016, during which the judgement was handed down. Instead, he was represented by lawyer Mustafa Kocamanbaş, an Islamist attorney known for extremist views who often takes on cases of al-Qaeda and ISIL suspects in Turkey.
Kocamanbaş is also the lawyer for Hasan Süslü, who was detained on Jan. 13 for recruiting militants for Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), also known as al-Qaeda in Syria. Süslü leads a front NGO called the Aid and Solidarity Association for the Poor (Fukara Yardımlaşma ve Dayanışma Derneği, or Fukara-Der), which was set up on Sept. 11, 2013 in the city of Seyhan in southeastern Adana province. The NGO provides logistical support to jihadist groups and their families and supplies goods and services on demand from the ground in Syrian cities such as Idlib, Jarablus, al-Bab and other places in the north of Syria where jihadist groups have been operating. Fukara-Der is the subject of an investigation in the Netherlands, where partner Islamist NGOs were alleged to have funneled funds to jihadist groups in Syria.
Despite a police statement dated March 8, 2016 regarding Kayhan and the ISIL terrorist group and incriminating evidence found in the digital materials seized from the suspects, the panel of three judges, composed of presiding judge Devlet Demirbilek, judge Gökhan Türkkan and judge Halit Akyol, decided to acquit Kayhan and his associate, bill the court and attorney costs to the Treasury and return the hard drive and other digital materials to the suspects. The judicial supervision imposed on him due to flight risk after the initial detention was also removed although he most likely had fled Turkey before the final hearing.
The case represents one of too many in Turkey where battle-hardened jihadists were acquitted and released by Turkish courts in line with political signals from the Erdoğan government, which has been using these group as proxies and leverage.