Turkey shielded al-Qaeda suspects, jihadist NGOs from investigation into assassination of Russian envoy

Abdulkadir Sen

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

In a bizarre twist, the Turkish prosecutor who investigated the murder of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov in 2016 decided not to press charges against an al-Qaeda suspect who met the killer, helped radicalize him and was closely involved with two NGOs that were flagged by Russia as aiding and abetting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to the investigation case file, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a 22-year-old jihadist police officer, was inspired by a book titled “Tüm Yönleriyle Suriye Devrimi” (Syrian Revolution in All Aspects) written by Abdulkadir Şen, a radical figure and an indicted al-Qaeda suspect. Altıntaş, who gunned down the Russian envoy on December 19, 2016 in the most secure part of the Turkish capital city of Ankara, made a trip to Istanbul on October 8, 2016 to meet Şen in person. The meeting was arranged by a man named Enes Asım Silin, a 31-year-old al-Qaeda suspect who had been in communication with the killer for some time.

Under government guidelines in the case, prosecutor Adem Akıncı, who drafted the indictment in the murder of Karlov, decided to drop the investigation into both al-Qaeda suspects and made a record of his decision of non-prosecution in the indictment he filed on November 22, 2018. Instead, the prosecutor tried to pin the murder on a major critic of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with no evidence to back up his allegations.

 

Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş

 

Silin and the assassin started to develop a relationship in late September or early October 2016. In a statement to the counterterrorism police on December 26, 2016 in Ankara, Silin acknowledged that he was the user of the ahmed @ilgariniyan Twitter account and was contacted by the killer through it. The account, which often shared anti-Russian and jihadist postings, is no longer active, but some of his messages, shared and quoted by others, are enough to cast a chill. For example, on November 27, 2016 Silin wrote, “There are things we can do here [in Turkey] even if we can’t go and fight [in Syria].” The message provided a link to a Facebook posting that is no longer available. In a series of tweets published in September 2016, he said armed jihad was a requirement for all Muslims in the face of a Russian offensive in Syria.

The two had family roots in the western province of Aydın and quickly developed a friendship. The assassin identified himself as a police officer but noted that he did not want to continue serving as a member of the security branch but had to take the job to earn a living. At one point, Altıntaş asked Silin whether it would be acceptable under Islamic rules to work for the government as a police officer. In response, Silin asked if he had ever raised this question with clerics, and the killer responded that he asked Hüsnü Aktaş — a 69-year-old cleric who was jailed several times in the past for radical activities — about this and that the cleric urged him to resign from the police force, saying that working as a police officer was incompatible with religious principles.

 

Al-Qaeda suspect Enes Asim Selim introduced the Russian ambassador’s killer to Abdurrahman Sen.

 

The cleric Aktaş is a familiar figure among radicals in Turkey. A foundation run by Aktaş was previously charged with aiding and abetting a Chechen group that hijacked a ferry as it was about to depart the Black Sea province of Trabzon for the Russian port city of Sochi in January 1996. The indictment filed at the time against Aktaş and his Vahdet (Unity) Foundation in 1997 showed that the hijackers received help from the foundation.

In further conversations with Silin, the killer expressed a desire to go to Syria to fight and sought Silin’s opinion. Altıntaş also asked whether he knew Şen and if he had read his book on Syria. Silin responded that he knew the man and had read the book and could arrange a meeting with him if he wanted. A week later the killer contacted Silin and informed him that he was coming to Istanbul and asked whether it would be possible to meet Şen in person. After talking to Şen and getting his agreement, Silin got back to the killer and informed him that he had set up a meeting for him to get acquainted with Şen in the courtyard of a mosque in Istanbul’s conservative Fatih neighborhood.

Şen came to the meeting with two young men whom he identified as university students. The killer, also joined by his friend, was introduced to Şen after the noon prayer, and they shook hands. Şen asked Silin to take the students to a teahouse and chat with them, while he, the killer and the friend headed in another direction for a private talk.

 

The statement of Enes Asim Selim, an al-Qaeda suspect, in the case of the assassination of the Russian ambassador:

ENES ASIM SİLİN statement

 

Although very specific details of the encounter between Şen and the killer were provided in the police statement by Silin, which were also verified by phone records included in the case file, Şen denied meeting with the killer in person and claimed he was in the courtyard of the mosque at the same time but had met with other people.

Silin was a senior figure in the Turkish al-Qaeda network, He had been wiretapped and investigated in the past. He was one of the board members of the Global Humanitarian Aid and Political Training Center (Küresel İnsani Yardım ve Siyasi Eğitim Merkezi, or KİSEM), which is a front NGO run by İbrahim Şen, a former Gitmo detainee and a convicted, high-profile al-Qaeda militant. İbrahim is also a brother of Abdulkadir Şen. The two jointly ran al-Qaeda cells in Turkey, moved jihadists into Syria and sent them supplies with the help of Turkish Intelligence agency MIT. İbrahim Şen was detained in Pakistan over al-Qaeda links and transferred to Guantanamo, where he was kept until 2005, when US officials decided to turn him over to Turkey. According to the 2014 investigation file, he had been working with Turkey’s MİT since the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011.

Both brothers were investigated and detained in an al-Qaeda sweep in January 2014, but the Erdoğan government intervened and hushed up the case. Silin was also saved in a separate al-Qaeda investigation in Istanbul, initiated in 2014, but the prosecutor dropped the probe. When KISEM was exposed, it ceased its activities, and other front NGOs came into play in the al-Qaeda network.

 

A tweet quoting Enes Asim Selim, an al-Qaeda suspect.

 

Alarmed that the Karlov investigation might actually expose the Turkish intelligence agency’s clandestine links to al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups, the Erdoğan government tried to cover its tracks by brushing aside significant leads that might point to MIT and Erdoğan’s circle of jihadist friends. Turkish prosecutor Akıncı decided to take a new statement from Silin 10 months after he revealed the killer’s links to Abdulkadir Şen. He said he gave his original statement in a panic and denied introducing Şen to the killer in Istanbul. In the end the prosecutor, who originally listed both Silin and Şen as suspects, decided to drop the probe and let them go free. It appeared that Erdoğan had stepped in again to save his friends in legal trouble.

Abdülkadir traveled to Syria to join the fight, procured medical supplies and spare parts for jihadists and organized the shipment of these items in the border province of Hatay, according to the hushed-up al-Qaeda probe in 2014. When his brother İbrahim faced problems in moving the shipments, Abdülkadir was the man he called for help, the evidence indicates. Abdülkadir also kept the network alive by attending slain fighters’ funerals and offering condolences to their families in Turkey. He also ran the media, propaganda and outreach activities for al-Qaeda, distributing jihadist publications to Turkish fighters in Syria.

The telephone records between 2012 and 2016, obtained by Nordic Monitor, show that Abdulkadir Şen had been closely involved with NGOs that were reported to the UN Security Council as arms traffickers for Syria’s jihadist groups. One is the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or İHH) which was used by Şen to send supplies to al-Qaeda according to the 2014 indictment.

 

Phone records of Abdulkadir Şen shows he worked closely with jihadist NGOs and figures.

 

Another NGO Şen has closely been involved with is İnsanı Müdafaa ve Kardeşlik Derneği (Association for the Defense of Humanity and the Brotherhood, or İmkan-Der), an İstanbul-based NGO that is also aligned with jihadist groups such as the al-Nusra Front, Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam. Phone records show Şen frequently talked to Murat Özer, the head of İmkan-Der and a well-known radical figure and staunch ally of President Erdoğan. The group has a branch in the border province of Gaziantep from where it runs logistical lines to Syria. Russia asked the UN in September 2013 to include İmkan-Der on the UNSC 1267/1989 Sanction Committee list as an al-Qaeda supporter but failed to secure the votes. In a letter submitted to the UN on February 10, 2016, Russia again named İmkan-Der as a supporter of terrorism in Syria, claiming that the Turkish government used İmkan-Der as a front to send weapons to jihadists in Syria.

Just as the government dropped the 2014 investigation and sacked the police chiefs, prosecutors and judges who were involved in the investigation, prosecution and trial of Şen and his associates, it also hushed up the 2016 investigation into Şen when he was implicated in the murder of the Russian ambassador.

Russian letter to the UN Security Council naming IHH, Imkan-Der and Öncu Nesil as arms traffickers to Syria: 

russia_letter_un_IHH

 

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