A British media outlet’s Turkish-language site, Independent Türkçe, funded by a Saudi publishing house, is run by a hard-core Islamist who adores the Iranian mullah regime, is an ardent supporter of an indicted jihadist imam and harbors ambitions of establishing a Shariah state in Turkey, secret wiretaps have revealed.
A transcript of one wiretap, recorded on November 8, 2013 at 00:31 hours, shows Nevzat Çiçek, the 43-year-old editor-in-chief of Independent Türkçe, talking about impediments to the establishment of an Islamic state based on Shariah law in Turkey and how the Iranian experiment could offer guidance in resolving problems encountered in Turkey.
Çiçek’s phone call was intercepted when Turkish police, under orders from a prosecutor’s office and authorized by a judge, had been investigating the clandestine operations by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force in Turkey. The probe, launched in 2010, had been expanded to include Iranian spies working under diplomatic cover in Turkey. Çiçek was talking on the phone to a suspect named Fehmi Bülent Yıldırım, head of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), a front charity that operates under Turkish intelligence agency MIT coordination and has links to al-Qaeda groups.
Transcript of the wiretap of a conversation between Nevzat Çiçek and IRGC Quds Force suspect Fehmi Bülent Yıldırım:Nevzat_Cicek_Bulent_Yildirim_wiretap
The IHH was named by Russia at the United Nations Security Council as a sender of arms and supplies to jihadist groups in Syria including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). According to investigative reports prepared by the Turkish Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), an al-Qaeda-affiliated Turkish police officer who gunned down the Russian ambassador in December 2016 had transferred money to the IHH.
“Step by step, we are getting closer to establishing a Shariah [Islamic] State [in Turkey],” Yıldırım told Çiçek, who was explaining how the current agenda in the country was focused on a debate about mixed-gender student housing against the backdrop of then-Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks regarding his disapproval of such housing. “If we resolve this as well, all will be finalized,” Yıldırım emphasized, signaling that their project of turning Turkey into an Islamic state would come to fruition.
“If I was in the shoes of the Iranians, I would have come out with an announcement saying that we have the solution for this,” Çiçek underlined, referring to Iran’s controversial Muta tradition, a type of marriage permitted in Twelver Shia Islam where the duration of the marriage and the dowry must be specified and agreed upon in advance. Muta is rejected by Sunni scholars, who argue that it is form of prostitution and abuse of women, which is forbidden in Islam.
In a closed party meeting on November 4, 2013 in Ankara, Erdoğan expressed his disapproval of mixed-gender student housing and told his party colleagues that the authorities might take action against male and female students living together. The reported remarks sparked a debate on privacy concerns and added to already existing fears among a portion of Turkish society that the government was intervening in their lifestyles. Some presented it as evidence that Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had been pursuing a secret agenda of dismantling secular structures since the party’s first day in power.
The then-government spokesman and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said no such statement was made at the closed meeting. However, one day later, Erdoğan himself admitted that he had made the remarks on mixed-gender student housing and added that it was his responsibility to intervene in the situation. “Nobody knows what takes places in those houses [where male and female students live together]. … Anything can happen … I never deny anything I say because I’m a different kind of politician,” Erdoğan said. He also noted that the government, if necessary, would push for changes in the law to allow for inspection of the housing. Erdoğan’s remarks were considered to be in breach of the Turkish Constitution, which stipulates the right to keep one’s private life private as well as Turkey’s obligations under international human rights conventions including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
A day after Erdoğan’s speech, police raided a student house in İstanbul’s Tophane neighborhood. Özge Altın, a university student, said her house in Tophane, which she was sharing with another female friend from university, was raided by police the day after Erdoğan made the statement.
It is clear from a readout of the wiretap that both Çiçek and his anti-Semitic jihadist buddy Yıldırım, who repeatedly vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, wanted to mold Turkish society based on the rules of Iran’s mullah regime. They endorsed Erdoğan’s secret agenda of turning Turkey into a second Iran, where the government interferes in people’s private space and way of life.
In the beginning of the phone conversation, both expressed uneasiness about the possibility that their phones might be wiretapped. Yet, they continued talking freely, laying out their thoughts and plans. For example, the two debated how Erdoğan’s remarks could be used to push Turkey into a Shariah-based nation. They agreed that some sort of marriage deal like Muta could be a solution to mixed-gender student housing. “What this [remarks of Erdoğan] means is that such housing cannot be established unless there is a marriage,” Yıldırım stated. “What would you say to those who say we are married?” Çiçek asked, prompting a response from Yıldırım, who concluded that there was no problem in that case.
Çiçek lamented that the Erdoğan government had been late in bringing up issues like this in Turkey and complained that Muslims were too integrated with state structures. “Muslims should not be so state-minded,” he argued, claiming that this harmed the cause of Muslims.
The two later brought up the name of their acquaintance in common, Sefer Turan, Erdoğan’s chief advisor and also a suspect in a Quds Force investigation. Through his writings, Turan had become a well-known pro-Iranian figure who helped shape Turkey’s policies with Arab nations. He had written articles in the 1990s vigorously defending the Islamic jihad in Egypt and endorsing terrorist and armed jihadist activity. “You know what Sefer Turan has been saying: We are the state now,” Yıldırım remarked. Çiçek expressed concern that Turan and others might be co-opted by the state in the process.
Yıldırım recalled how Turan had been refusing to attend Friday prayer in Turkey before joining the government on the grounds that Turkey was not an Islamic state. He was relating to the concept of dar al-harb (literally, territory of war), which describes non-Islamic lands whose rulers are called upon to accept Islam. In other words, Turan refused to attend Friday prayer because he had considered Turkey a non-Islamic country in his youth. Çiçek said what Turan was doing was completely justified because in Iran Friday prayers were held in only one place in each municipality.
It is also interesting to note that Çiçek, who was involved in running an ultraconservative Turkish website, TimeTurk, a pro-Iranian news website that often ran stories bashing Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for adopting critical positions against Erdoğan government policies, was recruited to lead Independent Türkçe.
The Turkish sister site, owned by Media Arabia, was established on April 15, 2019 as part of the Saudis’ attempt to push their own talking points to the Turkish audience following a major crackdown on the critical and independent media in Turkey by the government of President Erdoğan that resulted in almost total control of the entire media industry. Nearly 200 media outlets were shut down and their assets seized, and hundreds of journalists have been jailed since 2015.
Independent Türkçe recently became a victim of a political war between Turkey and Saudi Arabia when the two countries blocked access to respective media outlets. Turkish authorities prevented online access to Independent Türkçe as well as Sky News Arabia in a reciprocal move to the Saudis, who had blocked access to the websites of the state-run Anadolu news agency and the Arabic channel of Turkish public broadcaster TRT. The Independent has so far continued to evade the block by changing the site’s web address.
In 2014 Çiçek was also a leading figure in defending the al-Qaeda-aligned Turkish jihadist group Tahşiyeciler, which was led by radical imam Mehmet Doğan (aka Mullah Muhammed), who openly declared his admiration for Osama bin Laden and called for armed jihad in Turkey. Doğan and his associates were rounded up in a police operation in January 2010. The police discovered three hand grenades, one smoke bomb, seven handguns, 18 hunting rifles, electronic parts for explosives, knives and a large cache of ammunition in the homes of the suspects.
Although Mullah Muhammed was indicted and tried along with others in the case, Erdoğan started defending the group in 2014, vouching for the radical imam. The investigation revealed how Mullah Muhammed had asked his followers to build bombs and mortars in their homes, urged the decapitation of Americans, claiming that the religion allowed such practices. “I’m telling you to take up your guns and kill them,” he said in recorded sermons, adding, “If the sword is not used, then this is not Islam.” According to Doğan, all Muslims were obligated to respond to then-al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s armed fight.
The campaign to save the indicted Mullah Muhammed was first launched by the Sabah daily, owned by Erdoğan’s family, on March 13, 2014. An article tried to portray Mullah Muhammed as a victim. Ten days later, Çiçek took up the cause and posted an article on his website TimeTurk claiming that Mullah Muhammed was framed by the Gülen movement, a group that is highly critical of Erdoğan on a range of issues from corruption to Turkey’s arming of jihadist groups in Syria and Libya.
Acting on these two reports and a complaint from an al-Qaeda suspect, apparently designed as part of an organized plot to save Mullah Muhammed, the Turkish prosecutor launched a criminal investigation into the police who had monitored, investigated and run surveillance on the Mullah Muhammed group. Journalists who criticized Mullah Muhammed were also targeted. Based on this bogus investigation, police raided Zaman, Turkey’s largest national daily with 1.2 million copies sold daily at its peak, on December 14, 2014 and detained the editor-in-chief, Ekrem Dumanli. The charge was that Zaman had published one article and two op-eds that were critical of the al-Qaeda-aligned Mullah Muhammed group. The government seized the newspaper in March 2016 and later shut it down.
Çiçek appears to have had quite a pull on radical groups in Turkey. In March 2018 he gathered many leading radical figures and moderated a discussion to establish a common front and pursue a radical agenda more vigorously. A picture taken at a closed-door meeting shows Çiçek sitting next to IHH head Yıldırım and Nurettin Yıldız, who is connected to armed jihadist groups in Syria and played a key role in radicalizing the killer of the Russian ambassador in 2016. Yıldız has often been described as the family cleric of President Erdoğan because of his frequent keynote speeches at youth events organized by the ruling AKP and conferences and lectures hosted by the Turkey Youth Foundation (TUGVA), run by Erdoğan’s family. When the Erdoğan government started attacking Saudi Arabia over a host of policy differences, Yıldız jumped on the bandwagon as well and announced that Muslims had a bigger problem with Saudi Arabia than with Israel.
When asked by the police about his talks with Quds Force suspects in a police interrogation on October 30, 2014, Çiçek admitted that he had talked to the suspects but denied any wrongdoing. In a letter to the Istanbul prosecutor’s office on June 15, 2015 the IHH certified that Çiçek had been a supporter and volunteer for the IHH. Both the al-Qaeda case and the IRGC Quds Force investigations were hushed by the Erdoğan government and the suspects were let off the hook. In a serious blow to the independence of the judiciary by the blatant interference of the executive branch, Erdoğan and his associates orchestrated the removal of the lead prosecutors and all the police investigators who had worked on the Mullah Muhammed case as well the Quds Force investigation case file.
In another wiretap dated November 18, 2013 Çiçek was recorded talking to a man named Furkan Torlak, a suspect in the Quds Force investigation, and bragging about how he had secured a position for Mehmet Akif Ersoy, also a suspect in the same case, in Turkish media outlet Habertürk TV. He said he was close to Mehmet Fatih Saraç, deputy chairman of the board of directors of the Ciner Media Group, which owns Habertürk. “Akif, that matter is handled. They called him an hour later [after the interview] and told him he would start [work]. We have Fatih Saraç there and we are on very good terms with him,” Çiçek said on the phone. Ersoy, who was detained by Egyptian authorities when he was working in Cairo as reporter for the Turkish state-run media, continues to work as a news presenter for Habertürk TV.
Transcript of the wiretap recording between Nevzat Çiçek and IRGC Quds Force suspect Furkan Torlak:Nevzat_Cicek_Furkan_Torlak
Saraç has been the Turkish president’s point man who was brought in to the Ciner Media Group on December 26, 2012 as manager by the owner, Turgay Ciner, at the special request of Erdoğan. He ran the editorial policies in line with instructions from Erdoğan’s office. Saraç is a graduate of a Saudi university in Mecca and the son of prominent religious sect leader Muhammed Emin Saraç, described as a role model for President Erdoğan, who was seen in 2014 kissing the hand of the cleric as a sign of respect and reverence. Saraç was also found to be a long-time business partner of Saudi national Yasin al-Qadi, who for years was listed as an al-Qaeda financier by both the US Treasury and the UN.
Saraç, al-Qadi and Erdoğan’s son Bilal were leading suspects in an organized crime investigation pursued by prosecutors in Istanbul and were the subjects of detention warrants issued on December 25, 2013 by the prosecutors. However, Erdoğan stepped in, illegally preventing the execution of the warrants by ordering the police to ignore the prosecutor’s orders. After the removal of the prosecutors and police chiefs who were involved in the investigation, Erdoğan managed to whitewash the crimes of his associates. Those who had investigated them were later dismissed and/or jailed by the Erdoğan government.
Likewise, an indictment was filed for all prosecutors, judges and police investigators who were involved in the Quds Force terrorism investigation as well as journalists who wrote critically of radical cleric Mullah Muhammed. Many have been jailed pending trial since 2015. Erdoğan loyalists and Islamist prosecutors and judges dismissed all the evidence collected against the suspects and brushed aside overwhelming evidence while fabricating new charges against those who merely did their job in the law enforcement agencies and criminal justice system when they investigated Quds Force operatives and Mullah Muhammed’s jihadist militants.