Russian ambassador’s killer tied to Turkish gov’t-backed Islamist charity İyilikhane

Turkish Islamist charity Iyilikhane's campaign poster.

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

More evidence has emerged tying the jihadist Turkish police officer who killed Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov in December 2016 to a pro-government foundation that was already flagged by Russia at the UN Security Council as a gunrunner for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to evidence incorporated in the prosecutor’s case file, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a 22-year-old policeman who was radicalized by imams on the Turkish government payroll, had been sending money to a partner organization of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH). The assassin even left a will asking his family to keep supporting the partner organization as part of his pledge.

 

Malawi orphanage built by the IHH and funded by Iyilikhane.

 

Altıntaş’s banking records showed that he had for some time been wiring money to a little-known outfit called Iyilikhane Çocuk Derneği (İyilikhane Child Association), an Istanbul-based charity whose stated goal is to focus on “orphans and children in need.” Established in 2014 under the name of İyilikhane Yetimlerle Dayanışma Derneği (İyilikhane Association for Solidarity with Orphans), the organization was actually developed under the wings of the IHH.

A review of the killer’s financial transactions through his bank accounts at two Islamic lenders in Turkey, Kuveyt Türk and Albaraka Türk, revealed that the assassin of the Russian ambassador had wired funds to Iyilikhane in the amount of 1,100 Turkish lira in 11 transactions between January 2015 and July 2016. In the same period, he also sent funds to the IHH totaling 1,584.13 Turkish lira. The financial report was prepared by the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) and submitted to the prosecutor’s office.

 

The Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) report showed the assassin of the Russian ambassador had wired funds to Iyilikhane.

 

Iyilikhane is run by Merve Çirişoğlu Çotur, an Islamist producer and animation director who has been a volunteer at the IHH for years. She was groomed by IHH mentors before she and her friends decided to set up Iyilikhane and conduct campaigns for orphans. That is where Çotur’s organization intersected with the jihadist police officer who gunned down the Russian ambassador in a location that was supposed to be the safest area in the capital.

A forensic examination of a computer used by the Russian envoy’s killer uncovered important leads that shed light on the killer’s mindset. A browser search history showed Altıntaş researched how to schedule an email to be sent later and wanted to leave a manifesto that would be discovered only after his death and sent perhaps to the press, people or groups he was familiar with. Investigators found four email messages when they gained access to his account, and they were all similar in content. The messages were written in the form of a will that a jihadist militant would leave behind after martyring himself.

 

 

Altıntaş’s letter started with Verse 156, Chapter 2, of the Quran, which reads, “Verily we belong to God, and verily to Him do we return.” The verse is often recited by Muslims when they face imminent death or hear that another person has died. It was clear that the Turkish police officer had been planning some sort of attack that would result in his demise long before he killed the Russian envoy because the messages were date-stamped July 27, 2015. He wrote that there was no escape and asked for God’s mercy and expressed hope that he would find himself in heaven after his death.

He said he sponsored an orphan until November, paying 1,001 Turkish lira and asked his family to keep up with the donations. He asked his loved ones not to cry too much at his funeral and did not want a processional band, instead requesting participants chant Allah Akbar (God is the Greatest). He promised to meet them in the afterlife. The sponsoring of the orphan by the killer is linked to the campaign run by Iyilikhane.

Although they are separate entities on paper, both the IHH and Iyilikhane have worked closely on many projects. In several public remarks Çotur admitted that she was guided IHH people on which project Iyilikhane needed to support. Iyilikhane raised funds under various schemes such as sponsoring orphans, and the IHH ran the logistics in completing various projects around the world. For example, the IHH built an orphanage in the city of Khulna, Bangladesh, at a cost of nearly 300,000 euros, with some funding provided by İyilikhane. The opening ceremony was attended by IHH board member Said Demir and Iyilikhane’s vice president, Zeynep Sena Soyyiğit, on April 2, 2018.

 

The IHH and Iyilikhane jointly built an orphanage in the city of Khulna, Bangladesh.

The organization also funded the construction of a 360-student school in the Patani region of Thailand and an orphanage in Malawi, again in partnership with the IHH. The campaigns run by Iyilikhane suggest the organization was keen to promote the political and religious messages of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and explains why it was fully supported by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in Turkey.

In one of its campaign posters, the organization highlighted Christian missionary activities in Malawi and accused Christians of reducing the country’s Muslim population to 12 from 80 percent. In an interview she gave to the Islamist Yeni Şafak daily in November 2014, Çotur, the head of İyilikhane, highlighted World Vision International, an evangelical Christian organization, as an example of how millions of children were raised by Christian missionaries. She lamented that Muslims left the field empty, suggesting that her organization was there to fill the void and compete with the Christians.

 

Iyilikhane highlighted Christian missionary activities in Malawi.

 

Organization officials are seen on another poster posing with children in a 46-child orphanage they built in Malawi, flashing a Rabia sign, which President Erdoğan borrowed from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood during protests in Tahrir Square. In another poster, İyilikhane advertises a resistance movement for minority Muslims in Thailand and asks for support for their liberation.

In addition to Çotur and her deputy Soyyiğit, the other board members are listed as Ozan Mutlu, Sara Akgül and Tuğba Özdemir. The founding members include Büşra Günay Kır, Yasin Çotur, Abdullah Uçar, Abdullah Taha Orhan and İbrahim Köse.

 

Children in a Malawi orphanage were instructed to flash a Rabia hand sign that President Erdoğan borrowed from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood during protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

 

The IHH was investigated in Turkey in an al-Qaeda probe, and several employees were detained by the police in January 2014. But Erdoğan intervened in the investigation, and the case was quickly hushed up. The police chiefs, prosecutors and judges who were involved in the investigation of the IHH network were sacked by the government and later punished with dismissal or imprisonment on false charges.

Russia notified the UN Security Council in 2016 about the IHH, submitting detailed intelligence on how the IHH had been shipping arms to ISIS with the help of Turkish intelligence service MIT. Turkish prosecutor Adem Akıncı, who investigated the murder of the Russian ambassador, dropped the investigation into the clerics who helped radicalize the killer. Neither the IHH nor Iyilikhane was investigated, although the evidence implicated both organizations in a web of radical networks in Turkey.

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