By Abdullah Bozkurt
The driver for a senior figure in the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who helped move jihadist militants across the Turkish-Syrian border and served as a courier for forged documents was acquitted in Turkey in a trial that had only three hearings.
Mohammad Rabig Ismael, a 26-year-old Syrian national, was detained in Turkey as part of a crackdown on an ISIL cell in central Kayseri province where Syrian, Ukrainian and Russian nationals were rounded up by the police on October 11, 2018 on ISIL charges. Forged documents including passports, ISIL materials and photos showing them carrying arms in Syria were found in the possession of the suspects and in their residences in the towns of Talas and Melikgazi.
Although Ismael drove five ISIL suspects from the border area to Kayseri on the orders of Abu Jafar and served as a carrier for identification documents, he was treated differently from the rest of the suspects and was not charged with membership in a terrorist group. Instead, charges of aiding and abetting, which carry a lesser sentence, were filed against him. He was not arrested unlike the others, and the Turkish prosecutor inexplicably sought his acquittal in court. He was acquitted by the judges despite the fact that he did not even bother to show up at the last hearing.
High-profile ISIL militant Abdullah Sheikh Ismael, known by his nom de guerre “Abu Jafar,” who runs smuggling and logistics operations for ISIL involving Turkey, remains at large. His brother, sister and other relatives were among the suspects, who included Ukrainian Rashid Enikeev, a 29-year-old Crimean Tatar who faces an outstanding warrant in Russia. Syrian national Mahmoud Sheikh Mohammad (23), the brother of Abu Jafar, Russian national Elena Rakhmanova (25), Syrian nationals Sumayya Sheikh Mohammad (23), the sister of Abu Jafar, Ahmad Alakel (30), Mohammad Ali al-Hammoud (23) and Minah Mohammad al-Ali (23) were also detained. All the suspects detained with the exception of Mohammad Rabig Ismael were formally arrested.
At the first hearing held by the Kayseri 4th High Criminal Court on February 14, 2019, Enikeev, educated At Egypt’s al-Azhar University, denied the ISIL charges despite photographic evidence showing him posing in front of an ISIL flag and holding a gun next to a jihadist figure. He claimed that he came to Istanbul in 2015 for rehabilitation after a traffic accident in Egypt two years ago. The wheelchair-bound Enikeev added that he spent a year in Istanbul with his former wife Jana, a Swiss national, and that they decided to move to Syria to work in the field of humanitarian assistance. He admitted that he helped the Nusra Front, Tahrir al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army in Idlib province, where he met Abu Jafar of ISIL. He denied having any knowledge of him being linked to ISIL.
Having spent one-and-a-half years in Syria, Enikeev returned to Turkey in July 2018 and was hoping to go back to his native Ukraine. Investigators concluded that he was still active in an ISIL cell when he was apprehended by the police and was giving orders to other ISIL militants through a secure messaging application. Asked about an outstanding international warrant for him, Enikeev said the Russian Federation had issued an arrest warrant because he was against the Russian annexation of Crimea. He said he got married to two women, Elena and Sumayya, after he and his Swiss wife were divorced. Investigators believed Enikeev was in charge of coordination operations to help ISIL wives resettle in Turkey. His claim of a traffic accident in Egypt was also questioned, with evidence suggesting that he was injured in Iraq during a battle.
Syrian Mahmoud Sheikh Mohammad also testified that he was a brother of Abu Jafar, who is still fighting in Syria, but claimed he did not know for which group Abu Jafar has been waging war. Mahmoud, a native of Idlib, said he came illegally to Turkey in 2014. He said suspect Alakel, his cousin, received a package containing two phones and two SIM cards one day, claiming not to know where they were shipped from. He admitted he picked up Enikeev from the border province of Hatay at the request of his brother Abu Jafar in Syria. He later made another run from the border province driving a taxi, he added.
Asked about photos seized from the suspects that showed Elena holding a gun in a black chador in Syria, she stated that she was forced to hold the gun and pose with it by her slain husband, Abdurrahman Azayev, a Chechen who fought in Syria. The two went to Syria in 2017, a year after they got married, and Azayev was killed in clashes four months later. She claimed she did not know which side her late husband was working for while there. Sumayya later met Enikeev through the Telegram app, and the two subsequently got married. She thought living expenses in Kayseri would be cheaper while they waited for passports to return to Ukraine.
In her testimony in court, Enikeev’s second wife Sumayye, also a suspect in the case and the sister of Abu Jafar, stated that her first husband Mohammed Ali Mostafa was killed in the war and repeated the same claim that she was too forced to hold a gun by her husband.
Suspect Minah testified that she came to Turkey illegally only two months before the police raid and stated that she and Alakel got married 20 days before their detention. Minnah is the daughter of a Syrian father who was killed in Syria and an Egyptian mother. Alakel, a Syrian national from Idlib, said he was wounded there and wanted to be treated in Turkey. He filed a request for medical treatment but did not get a response from Turkish authorities and decided to cross the border illegally two months before he was taken into custody.
Mohammad Ali al-Hammoud, who was accused of sheltering Abu Jafar, told the court he helped him because Abu Jafar falsely claimed that he had no relatives to help him out and gave him his own identification card before Abu Jafar went to Istanbul.
In the second hearing on April 11, 2019, the prosecutor who was trying the case for the government asked for the acquittal of Mohammad Rabig Ismael while demanding conviction for the rest of the suspects of membership in a terrorist group. All the suspects claimed they did not remember their cell phone numbers in an attempt to distance themselves from other ISIL militants in Turkey and abroad in the event investigators were able to trace their phone calls.
At the last hearing held on May 2, 2019, the court handed down a prison sentence of seven years, six months to Enikeev and Mahmoud Sheikh Mohammad for membership in a terrorist group. The other defendants, Elena, Sumayya, Alakel, Mohammad al-Hammoud and Minah were sentenced to six years, three months in prison. The convictions are still pending on appeal. The case in the first court was wrapped up quickly in merely three hearings, which is quite unusual given the normally slow pace of trials in Turkey.