Turkish businessman jailed in Morocco with ISIS fighters confirms Erdoğan’s support for jihadists

Levent Kenez

 

A critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who was jailed in Morocco upon an extradition request from Turkey based on false terrorism accusations said he had witnessed firsthand how Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants glorified the president in prison. 

Speaking to Nordic Monitor in an exclusive interview, the 61-year-old Turkish businessman said he was struck by the revelations of ISIS members who expressed their gratitude for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s support for ISIS and how they admired President Erdoğan. The businessman, identified only by the initials E.A. due to safety concerns, recounted the ISIS militants’ stories about their time in Turkey, where they were helped by Turkish authorities to travel to Syria. ISIS militants in the Sále 2 prison near Rabat threatened the Turkish businessman after they became aware that he belonged to a group that is highly critical of Erdoğan. Prison authorities had to move him to another section, away from the ISIS terrorists, for security reasons. 

According to E.A. he was arrested in Morocco in 2017 at the Turkish government’s request and spent 726 days  in a prison where ISIS militants were also incarcerated. 

He was doing business in Morocco and came to Rabat about three months before a failed coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016 that resulted in a relentless witch-hunt against opponents of the government at home and abroad. After he learned that the police had raided his home over his alleged links to the civic Gülen movement, he decided to not return to Turkey in avoid the wrongful prosecution that many faced in Turkey. Instead, he applied to the United Nations office in Rabat, claiming that he needed protection in the event of deportation back to his home country.

 

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Meanwhile,  E.A. also decided to retain a lawyer in Turkey in order to stay abreast of the accusations against him. Confident that he had done nothing wrong, he visited the Turkish Embassy in Rabat to have a power of attorney for his lawyer notarized. He, of course, did not know that this would be a turning point in his life.

When Turkish consular officers saw his name on a black list compiled after the abortive coup, they refused to carry out his request and immediately informed Ankara of his whereabouts, upon which the Turkish Justice Ministry demanded E.A.’s extradition along with that of several other Turkish citizens in accordance with the Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters between the two countries that was ratified in 1990.

Upon Turkey’s request, the Moroccan government detained him at this office on July 27, 2017. While anxious that he would be sent to Turkey without any legal procedure, he breathed a sigh of relief that he would appear before a court and that the final decision would be taken by the Moroccan judiciary. 

 

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Turkish prosecutor Gökalp Poyraz

As expected, he appeared before a court for an extradition hearing a month after his detention. The judge was holding a document, interestingly in Turkish, prepared by Turkish prosecutor Gökalp Poyraz, claiming that E.A. was a terror suspect in Turkey. The prosecutor said E.A had subscribed to the Turkish Zaman daily, at one time Turkey’s highest circulating national newspaper that was seized and later shut down by the government in 2016; served as a member of the board of a private high school; was a member of a businessmen’s association; and had a bank account at Bank Asya, all affiliated with the Gülen movement. The date of the crime was 2015 on the extradition request. E.A. did not accept the translation service offered by the Turkish Embassy. “I did not trust them. They probably mistranslated the papers on purpose,” he said.

E.A.’s UN-provided lawyer told the panel of judges that his client was under UN protection and would be subjected to inhuman treatment if he returned to Turkey given the fact that widespread torture and ill-treatment had been on the rise since the abortive coup, according to International monitoring institutions. He said E.A. would not even be able to hire a lawyer in Turkey.

Fortunately, the court suspended E.A.’s deportation until further notice but ruled for the continuation of his detention, thus beginning his long, anxious wait.

He was put in the Sále 2 prison near Rabat. The prison administration knew nothing about his case; however, E.A. was a terror suspect on the books. So he was put in a cell with other terror suspects, in other words, ISIS militants.

E.A. was shocked that he would be jailed with about 250 ISIS suspects known for their brutal murders and terrorist acts. The ISIS members, on the other hand, were quite happy to see someone from Turkey, where almost all of them had spent some time. However, that sentiment did not take long to dissipate.

When the ISIS militants learned that E.A. was arrested over links to the Gülen movement, they treated him like an infidel because followers of the movement do not obey President Erdoğan, who they think of as the leader of the Muslim world. 

E.A. was surprised that they knew of the Gülen movement and its spiritual leader, Fethullah Gülen, a vocal critic of the Erdogan regime for its aiding and abetting of jihadist groups. He later figured out they were told that people affiliated with the Gülen movement were the ones who had prevented them from carrying out their plans. In addition, some of them had been in the same prison as Gülen followers.

“Your friends were sleeping on the ground with tens of people in the same cell at Aliğa Prison [a district in the western city of İzmir],” said one of his cellmates, E.A recalls.

Sometimes, ISIS suspects and he argued over political and religious issues in the yard where they were allowed to go for three hours on weekdays. E.A. said he stopped doing this after one suspect threatened him with a beheading gesture. On one occasion another suspect was about to throw a teapot at him. He was so horrified that he thought his life was in danger. He asked the prison administration to change his ward, but the administration instead just became more selective in the choice of his cellmates.

“The first eight months were like hell. I barely got used to living there after the administration made things somewhat easier for me, including a change in cellmates,” E.A. said.

What he recalls most vividly about his notorious cellmates and other suspects was that they sincerely liked Turkey. Even though they did not speak Turkish except for a few very common words, they did know the districts of İstanbul very well. For instance, they all knew where Aksaray, Beşiktaş, Fındıkzade and Avcılar were, even the names of some streets in those districts.

Most of them told him that they went to the southeastern city of Şanlıurfa, across the border from northern Syria, from İstanbul by bus without ever being stopped at checkpoints on the road. They also told him that Turkish gendarmes sometimes recognized them but let them pass.

One thing he remembers is that they were very comfortable in Turkish prisons, according to all accounts. One of the ISIS suspects who had been in İzmir’s Aliağa Prison became a father after the prison administration allowed him to spend private time with his wife in the so-called pink room provided to inmates for good behavior. Conjugal visits are not currently allowed for political prisoners including Gülen followers and Kurdish inmates out of fear that their partners might deliver a message from the outside, which they would not be able to do during a supervised visit.

E.A. believes that ISIS suspects who spent time in prison are very radical and dangerous people, so they need to be deradicalized. He said the deradicalization efforts must focus on concrete solutions assisted by theological education with an emphasis on ideology. E.A. said ISIS suspects do physical exercise every day, assuming they must keep fit in the event they will be able to fight again.

“Turkey agreed to accommodate new ISIS suspects in the wake of its recent incursion into Syria. This was a serious mistake,” E.A. added.

E.A. is now in a European country where he enjoys his freedom after the UN Human Rights office officially notified Moroccan authorities that Gülen followers faced ill treatment, torture and persecution in Turkey. The UN requested that the Moroccan government release E.A. in May 2019 and announced that he would be transferred to a third country under UN supervision. The Moroccan government abided by the UN ruling, and E.A. left the country in August 2019.

 

Décision CAT Elams EA (2)

 

After having spent 726 days in a Moroccan prison with ISIS suspects, in response to the question of whether he would prefer to be in a Turkish prison instead, E.A., without missing a beat, said “No.”

“The conditions in Turkish prisons for Gülen followers are terrible and inhuman. There was no guarantee that I would have been released after 726 days. I have friends who have been there for years. The Moroccan government respected international law and the UN. My government would not do the same,” he added. 

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