Two senior Turkish police intelligence officers who foiled a plot by a Turkish al-Qaeda cell that planned to attack Turkish troops deployed in Afghanistan were punished by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
According to secret government memos obtained by Nordic Monitor, Ramazan Akyürek, the head of the intelligence unit at the Turkish police department, ordered the emergency wiretapping of al-Qaeda suspect İsmet Altın on August 15, 2009 at 23:45 hours. The order came after the police were tipped off about a possible bombing and assassination plot by an al-Qaeda group.
The order was submitted for a judge’s approval as the law required the emergency wiretapping be reviewed by a judge within 24 hours of issuance. A motion that explained the necessity of the surveillance was filed the next day by Muharrem Durmaz, deputy director of the intelligence unit. The motion stated that al-Qaeda had declared jihad against Turkey’s Western allies and that a possible plot was hatched by an al-Qaeda cell in Turkey. It was noted that the 46-year-old al-Qaeda operative Altın was connected to Serdal Erbaşı, al-Qaeda’s leader in Turkey whose code name was listed as Selefi Ebu Zer or Abu Hureyra. He was radicalized in 1993 when he went to fight in Chechnya.
The cell led by Erbaşı was later the target of a police operation, in January 2010, with several suspects taken into custody in simultaneous raids in Ankara and Adana by counterterrorism teams. The investigators found that the militants were planning to attack the Kabul Regional Command, whose rotating leadership had been taken over by Turkey in November 2009.
The suspects also acknowledged in their interrogation by the police that the Turkey branch of the terrorist organization was preparing for another assault on police departments and military facilities to avenge police operations conducted against al-Qaeda in Gaziantep on January 24, 2008 that resulted in the killing of four al-Qaeda militants. Erbaşı had apparently set up a cell in Ankara with assistance from some Georgians and Azerbaijanis whom he had met in his activities fighting against Russia with the Chechens.
The first Turkish domestic al-Qaeda operation was conducted on January 15, 2010 in Ankara’s Bağlum district. Three houses used by the organization as bases were raided. Counterterrorism teams seized bomb-making materials, a rifle, instructions on using a flame thrower and some morphine. Erbaşı’s pictures, taken in terrorist camps in Afghanistan, were also found in the houses.
Twenty individuals were detained in the operation in Ankara, which triggered police operations in Adana after officers discovered that al-Qaeda members were planning a terrorist attack in that city. Ebubekir A. and Abdurrahman B., the other senior members of al-Qaeda’s Turkey branch, said under questioning that they met with Erbaşı in the Turkish city of Kırıkkale and gave him money.
Furthermore, 20 other suspects were taken into custody in Adana after simultaneous raids on 25 houses in the city.
Many of the al-Qaeda suspects were later freed by the government; however, Altın went to Syria to join al-Qaeda groups there and was assigned to manage the Aaqrabâte camp in Syria, located some 800 meters from the Turkish border village of Kuşaklı in the town of Reyhanlı. The camp served as a collection and distribution hub for fighters who had crossed the Turkish border.
Erbaşı managed to get out of Turkey right before the police crackdown in 2010 and fled to Afghanistan, where he led an al-Qaeda group called Taifatul Mansura (The Victorious Sect) in the Afghan-Pakistani border area. It was alleged that Erbaşı later left Taifatul Mansura over an internal conflict and set up his own group. A disagreement over the management of funds coming from abroad including Germany led to his demise when Taliban forces captured and executed him.
In the meantime, Akyürek, the man who helped crack down on this al-Qaeda cell in Turkey, was put in jail by the Erdoğan government, and the emergency order to wiretap the al-Qaeda figure was presented as evidence against him in court. Police Chief Durmaz, who secured the judge’s approval for the wiretap warrant for the al-Qaeda militants, shared the same fate as Akyürek.