Metin İlhan, a 38-year-old dual Turkish-German national and operative of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been developed as key asset for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in particular for operations on European soil.
İlhan, a lawyer by profession, served as the general secretary of the Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD) from February 2013 to 2016. The UETD is often described as the long arm of Erdoğan in Europe for mobilizing the Turkish and Muslim diasporas for the goals of the political Islamist rulers back in Turkey. On May 2018 this front NGO changed its name from the UETD to the Union of International Democrats (UID) at a convention in Sarajevo attended by President Erdoğan as keynote speaker, reflecting the ambitions of the group to expand its operations beyond Europe.
İlhan has long been a protégée of Metin Külünk who tapped İlhan to help establish UETD operations in Europe, especially in Germany, where some 3 million Turks live, the largest Turkish diaspora group abroad. Külünk, a childhood friend of Erdogan and today considered a close confidante of the president, led an armed cell according to witness statements included in an indictment back in the 1980s. When police raided a group of 30 to 35 people who were reportedly receiving arms training in a highland area called Demirciler Yaylası in Bolu province on July 12, 1979, they found a handgun and blocks of dynamite on Külünk’s person. He was also one of the persons who provided money to a right-wing gang called Osmanen Germania in Germany to purchase weapons, organize protests and target critics of the Turkish leader.
After spending two years in Germany between 2005 and 2007, İlhan returned to Turkey to join the Turkuvaz media group, which publishes the Sabah Takvim dailies and many magazines under the direct ownership control of Erdoğan’s family. Starting from 2008, his portfolio also included Sabah’s German arm, Turkuvaz Sabah GmBH, in the German town of Mörfelden-Walldorf, so İlhan moved back to the German city Frankfurt. Between 2013 and 2016 he was general secretary of the UETD. Later, he and his wife, Rabia Kalender, also a lawyer, returned to Turkey. Rabia, who was unsuccessful in winning a seat in parliament in the 2015 elections, coordinated election campaign for the AKP’s Istanbul branch. Erdoğan selected her as the chairperson for women branches in Istanbul.
In the meantime, her husband İlhan benefited from Erdoğan’s crackdown on the critical media in Turkey and was appointed to manage Turkey’s one-time largest daily, Zaman, following the forcible takeover of the newspaper from its rightful owners. In a government plot to take over the newspaper unlawfully, İlhan coordinated with Mustafa Doğan İnal, a fixer who works closely with Erdoğan and has ties to a Turkish al-Qaeda group.
With political backing from the government, İnal orchestrated the acquittal of all 52 suspects in the case of Tahşiyeciler, an al-Qaeda-linked radical Turkish group led by Mehmet Doğan (aka Mullah Muhammed), who openly declared his admiration for Osama bin Laden and called for armed jihad in Turkey. Erdoğan vigorously defended this indicted cleric, helped secure his acquittal through his loyalist judges and prosecutors when he was arrested and tried; jailed journalists who criticized his radical group; and even launched a civil suit in the US against Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen for defaming this fanatic. The legal scheme for all of this was managed by İnal and his team.
İlhan is one of the helpers in this cause, and his social media postings described the radical cleric as victim. The probe into Mullah Muhammed revealed that the terrorist group had sent close to 100 people to Afghanistan for arms training. In seized tape recordings, Doğan was heard calling for violent jihad: “I’m telling you to take up your guns and kill them.” He also asked his followers to build bombs and mortars in their homes, urged the decapitating of Americans, claiming that the religion allows such practices. “If the sword is not used, then this is not Islam,” he stated. According to Doğan, all Muslims were obligated to respond to then-al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s armed fight.
İnal played a crucial role in orchestrating a fabricated criminal investigation in order to silence Turkey’s one-time largest national daily, Zaman, which took place in 2014. Zaman, with some 1.2 million subscribers at its peak, was highly critical of the Turkish government, publishing information from the corruption investigation file that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members and his business and political associates. The newspaper was taken over by the government on complaints filed by members of Tahşiyeciler, and İlhan was appointed as one of three caretakers who changed the editorial policy of the newspaper to a pro-government stance overnight.
İlhan’s social media profile suggests that he is staunchly anti-US and anti-West. He enlisted with the People’s Special Forces (HÖH), which has been called a militia close to the Turkish president. The group currently operates under the name of the National Mobilization Movement (MSH) after changing its initial name, HÖH. It operates under the leadership of Fatih Kaya, an AKP member who met Erdoğan and even ran for parliament from the ruling AKP in the past. The group established the organization on November 30, 2016 and has 7,000 members and 22 branches across Turkey including in İstanbul and Ankara. In one of the photos he shared on Twitter, İlhan was seen with an HÖH group, while in another he appears with a black and white ISIL-like flag in the background.
He also heads a law firm called the Jurist Law Office based in Istanbul with two junior partners identified as Hasan Sarı and Sümeyye Tunç. His website lists İlhan as both a Turkish and a German national.