A Turkish court in May of last year acquitted two German-born Turks who travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed.
Both suspects, identified as 31-year-old Sefa Tunç and 25-year-old Gökhan Özer, were detained on July 2, 2017 while trying to cross back into Turkey from Syria, where they had spent time with jihadist groups. The judge ordered their formal arrest at the arraignment held on July 6, 2017 and put them in pre-trial detention.
Tunç was released a month later, on August 2, 2017, while Özer was let go on February 15, 2018 pending trial. The prosecutor’s office in the Turkish border province of Hatay charged them with membership in ISIL on November 21, 2017 under indictment No. 2017/4877.
The two had been detained at 13.40 hours on July 2 by soldiers deployed to the 6th Border Company, located in the city of Altınözü in Hatay province as they were trying to illegally cross back into Turkey. A third suspect named Nayif Yaldız, a Turkish national who was also acquitted in the same case, was accompanying them.
In his defense statement, Tunç said he went to Syria after his friend Ercüment Altunay, who had gone there a year earlier, invited him for a visit. Noting that he had stayed in Syria for two months, Tunç denied that he had contact with any terrorist groups while there. He pleaded not guilty. Tunç was born in the town of Hürth in North Rhine-Westphalia, and his Turkish residential address is listed in southwestern Burdur province.
The other suspect, Özer, a 25-year-old accountant, said he went to Syria on a humanitarian mission as part of an invitation by a Turkmen who he met at a mosque in Istanbul. He admitted crossing the border illegally with the help of smugglers and later taking up residence in the Yamadiye (Bayirbucak) region, where the Turkmen population lives. He said he had spent the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2017 there and later decided to return. Özer, who was born in the Bavarian city of Munich, had lived in Germany before moving to Istanbul. He testified in court in Turkey that he had been tried by a German court on ISIL charges but was acquitted.
In a surprise move, Turkish prosecutor Hakan Sahinoglu asked the court to acquit both of them, claiming there was not enough evidence to warrant conviction. He was contradicting the indictment prepared by his own office against the suspects, which asked the court to sentence them on terrorism charges under Turkish Penal Code Article No. 314 (2) and CounterTerrorism Code 5 (1), which calls for longer sentences for terrorism suspects.
Another bizarre development in the case was a police report which stated that the suspects’ positions in ISIL were not determined and that there was no document confirming their membership in ISIL. This contradicted the intelligence assessment report, submitted to the court earlier, which concluded that all three were linked to ISIL. The panel of judges — presiding judge Ahmet Turan Oral, Abdullah Demirkol and Ömer Akbaş — all ruled in a unanimous decision to acquit the ISIL suspects on May 14, 2018.
The court also ruled that the lawyers’ fees for the defendants be covered by the Treasury and that the suspects had a right to file a lawsuit against the government for damages sustained due to their pre-trial detention.
Defendants Özer and Yaldız and their lawyers did not show up for the final hearing, while Tunç and his lawyer Mustafa Kocamanbaş were in attendance. Kocamanbaş, an Islamist attorney, is known for defending al-Qaeda and ISIL suspects in Turkey.