Turkey’s most wanted list includes few ISIS members while critics are listed as fugitives

Levent Kenez


In a yet another sign of how the Islamist government in Turkey is not really interested in cracking down on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Turkey’s most wanted list includes few ISIS suspects, while many critics who have nothing to do with terrorism are included on the list of fugitives.

The Turkish Interior Ministry has been listing wanted terror suspects on a separate website that includes critical journalists, academics, bureaucrats and former high-level police and military officers. However, a Nordic Monitor study shows that there are too few ISIS members given the fact that the terrorist organization has killed more than 200 Turkish citizens in Turkey and abroad.

Created in October 2015, an effort to emulate the FBI’s most wanted list, Turkey’s list in the beginning included 101 names, then the number jumped to 676 in two months’ time. As of January 7, 2020 there were 1,304 suspects on the list divided into five color-coded categories, with red designating the most wanted, followed by blue, green, orange and grey. There is no satisfying official explanation as to which color corresponds to what. The Turkish police also announced a reward  for anybody who provides information that leads to the capture of suspects, promising from  $50,000 to $670,000 depending on category.

Of the 1,304 names on the list, 668 are linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US. Turkey has been fighting the PKK for more than 40 years.

There are 342 people, mostly academics, journalists, former bureaucrats and theologians, on the list, affiliated with the Gülen movement, which has been active in education, charity and interfaith dialogue activities around the world. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government accuses the movement of orchestrating a controversial coup attempt in 2016 that led to the consolidation of Erdoğan’s power in the country. Erdoğan has repeatedly demanded that the Trump administration extradite movement leader Fethullah Gülen, who has resided in the US since 1999. However, US officials say Turkey has not provided the evidence needed to support extradition. EU INTCEN, the intelligence branch of the European Union, claimed in 2017 that according to a document leaked that same year, Gülen did not order the coup in Turkey.  Many Gülen-affiliated suspects on the list have been given political asylum, especially by EU countries on the grounds of Turkey’s increasing ill treatment and torture of critics.

There are only 84 alleged ISIS members out of the 1,304 people named on the list, amounting roughly 6 percent of the total wanted. Fifteen ISIS suspects are in the red category, which includes 221 people.

However, a secret Turkish military intelligence document previously published by Nordic Monitor showed 4,000 ISIS jihadists to be active militants in Turkey and that 4,671 Turkish jihadists had gone to Syria as of July 2016.

Since its creation, the list has never included Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former leader of ISIS who was killed by a US raid in October 2019, a few kilometers from the Turkish border in northern Syria, despite the fact that ISIS killed more than 200 Turkish civilians in Turkey and abroad and a number of soldiers, including two who were burnt alive, and carried out a car bomb attack against the Turkish police. Similarly, al-Baghdadi’s successor, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, is not listed as wanted.

However, Mazloum Kobani (aka Fardah Abdi Şahin, or Şahin Cilo), 52, leader of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Turkey claims is a branch of the PKK, has been added into the red category. Kobani was suggested by US President Donald Trump as a potential negotiating partner for Turkey in an unusually insulting letter to Erdoğan dated October 9, 2019 before its military incursion into Syria. Turkey’s most wanted list also includes Salih Muslim, the former co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria, which Turkey designates as a terrorist organization. Muslim was Turkey’s top interlocutor within the PYD between 2012 and 2015 and was officially invited to Ankara several times.

İlhami Balı (aka Abu Bakr, or Ebu Bekir), the mastermind behind a number of terrorist attacks including the deadliest in Turkey’s history, tops the ISIS suspects in the red category. Nordic Monitor previously revealed a secret note compiled by Turkish police intelligence that states İlhami Balı met secretly with Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) agents in the Turkish capital of Ankara in 2016. MİT’s links to Balı were also intercepted when intelligence agents were communicating with him on WhatsApp about the kidnapping of a private from a border garrison on September 1, 2015. MİT reportedly captured Balı’s wife Hülya in January 2019 in northern Syria.

Mustafa Dokumacı, an influential leader among ISIS members in Turkey, is also on the wanted list, colored red. Dokumacı leads an eponymous group that is known a source of suicide bombers. Many of his followers were reportedly caught during Turkey’s last military invasion of Syria; however, Dokumacı is still a fugitive.

Another suspect, Oğuzhan Gözlemecioğlu, recruited fighters and provided logistics for ISIS. He was also one of the key suspects in the indictment of 26 defendants in an al-Qaeda case in Ankara in 2016. According to a phone record included in the indictment, Gözlemecioğlu was telling a jihadist that he could arrange materials needed and send them to Syria with the help of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), a controversial jihadist-linked charity group backed by the Turkish government. It is still unknown how Gözlemecioğlu, who was under day-to-day surveillance, was able to flee Turkey in 2012.

Hasan Aydin, Deniz Büyükçelebi, İsmet Altın, Burak Hazar, Şahap Varış, Kasım Güler, İlyas Aydın, Muhittin Büyükyangöz, Talip Akkurt, Ali Bora, Mehmet Fatih Gögercin and Mehmet Gök are other in the red category.


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