A court document obtained by Nordic Monitor has revealed that Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force who was killed in a US strike on January 3, 2020, was directly associated with a number of murders and kidnappings in Turkey.
The indictment, dated July 11, 2000 and drafted by then-prosecutor Hamza Keleş, included the killings of prominent pro-secular journalists and academics Uğur Mumcu, Bahriye Üçok, Muammer Aksoy and Ahmet Taner Kışlalı, several diplomats and Iranians living in Turkey in the 1990s who were opposed to the Tehran government.
Seventeen defendants were charged with establishing and running the illegal Tawhid-Salam organization as well as a terrorist organization in Turkey affiliated with the Iranian-based Quds Force. The indictment claimed that the defendants were trained in military camps in Iran and were operating under the command of SAVAMA, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, and the Quds Force, a unit in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) specializing in unconventional warfare and military intelligence operations.
The name of Qasem Soleimani appeared in the indictment along with those of other Iranian officials, and he was mentioned as the head of the Quds Force, which had a special department for operations in Turkey. The Quds Force was accused of not only aiding and abetting but also providing logistical support for the defendants in establishing fake companies and associations as well as magazines in order to mask their activities.
According to an Ankara court ruling in 2002, Tawhid-Salam was found to be responsible for assassinations and kidnappings. In its verdict the court condemned three suspects to death (later changed to life in prison as Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2004) and sentenced three suspects to 12 years, six months’ imprisonment, while five suspects were handed down sentences of six years, three months. The defendants were charged with establishing and operating the illegal Tawhid-Salam terrorist organization as well as the terror group affiliated with the Quds Force. In the justification for its decision, the court later stated that Iran had used terrorism as a tool in its foreign relations with Turkey. However, none of the Iranian officials were charged at the time despite the fact that their alleged roles in the crimes were revealed, given that Turkey sought to avoid creating tension in bilateral relations with Iran according to political observers at the time.
The convictions of some of the defendants were overturned twice, but in each retrial they were convicted on similar charges. Finally, the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the convictions on March 31, 2014.
In an unexpected move, an Ankara court in 2017 decided that there had been a violation of “the right to fair trial within the scope of the equitable trial guaranteed under Article 36 of the Constitution” and ruled for a retrial of several of the suspects. The individuals who were sentenced to life were the ones behind bars, whereas all the other suspects were released earlier or had served their time.
Meanwhile in 2010 Turkish police discovered that Tawhid-Salam and Quds Force operatives had been reactivated. The investigation uncovered a sophisticated espionage network run by Turkish and Iranian operatives, some under the cover of a diplomatic assignment at the Iranian Embassy or its consulates. The police also laid bare the depth and extent of infiltration in Turkish institutions.
However, many investigators in the police department and members of the judiciary were jailed in 2014 for running a confidential investigation into the Quds Force when it was revealed that the investigation exposed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s secret ties to Iranian operatives including Gen. Ali Ekber Mirvakili, who was in charge of Quds Force operations in Turkey. The investigation allegedly uncovered that the chief of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), Hakan Fidan, had very close and suspicious connections to the Iranian regime.
Most recently, Nureddin Şirin, one of the suspects in the 2000 indictment, now the editor-in-chief of the pro-Iranian Kudüs TV, surprisingly claimed that Qasem Soleimani was instrumental in defeating an attempted coup against Erdoğan on July 15, 2016.
“Soleimani did more than anyone else to disrupt the coup attempt. President Erdoğan knows what Soleimani did for Turkey on July 15,” Şirin said on a TV program a few days after Soleimani’s assassination.
It is still unknown what an Iranian general who ran a controversial military unit operating outside Iran did for Erdoğan.
Some critics claim that a number of the civilians who were killed on the night of the coup attempt were not shot by the putschists. It was revealed that ammunition used on July 15 did not belong to the Turkish military, raising questions about the real masterminds behind the murders. In addition, angry mobs that lynched several military cadets on the Bosporus Bridge were never investigated.
More interesting is that a government decree published on December 24, 2017 stated that regardless of the person’s official title, individuals who acted “within the context of quashing the July 15 coup attempt, terrorist acts or acts transpiring as a follow-up to any of these do not bear any legal, administrative or penal responsibility.”