A senior member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was investigated on al-Qaeda charges for links to a radical group in the Chechen diaspora community in Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaraş, confidential documents have revealed.
According to the documents Muharrem Erantepli, deputy mayor of Kahramanmaraş and a member of the city council, was flagged by police intelligence when he was intercepted talking to a man who was under surveillance as part of an al-Qaeda investigation. The man who was monitored was Şerif Ali Işık, a known al-Qaeda operative whose phone was wiretapped by the police under court order no: 2011/1097.
The preliminary investigation indicated that the two men had been working together, visiting and talking to Chechen refugees who had moved to Turkey. Some militants who had gone to Caucasia as part of jihadist activities were also clustered around the two. Thanks to the wiretap recording of Işık, police learned about a third man named Ahmet Kutsal, who was briefing Erantepli and his accomplice Işık about developments in Chechnya. The initial assessment by police intelligence was that Kutsal had been raising funds, recruiting militants and spreading propaganda on behalf of al-Qaeda in the province.
Police explained in its filing with the court why an AKP official needed to be wiretapped:Erantepli_police_reasoning
Işık, a Chechen, was a student of Erantepli when he was teaching at the Endüstri Meslek public vocational school. The two kept in touch with each other, and records showed they spoke on the phone. At the time Erantepli was more involved with the Grand Unity Party (BBP), a far-right nationalist political party that has youth branches called Alperenler. He quit the party in 2009 and joined the AKP provincial establishment as the deputy head of the provincial branch. He was elected to the city council in the March 30, 2014 local election.
After his retirement as a public school teacher, Erantepli established a company named Eksen Dersanesi, which offered supplementary courses for high school students who wanted to compete in the university examination. He later turned his business into the Doğru Cevap Eğitim Kurumları private school with incentives received from the Erdoğan government. He admitted that he kept in contact with al-Qaeda suspects in a petition filed with the chief public prosecutor’s office on February 19, 2015.
More detailed information about Muharrem Erantepli, deputy mayor of Kahramanmaraş:Erantepli_police_filing
When his phone was monitored in 2011, the province’s law enforcement officials were apparently worried that the local al-Qaeda cell might launch terror or suicide attacks after al-Qaeda vowed to carry out revenge attacks on the US and its allies over the killing of Osama bin Laden. In fact, the police motion filed with the court for wiretap authorization made an explicit reference to al-Qaeda’s statement issued on May 3, 2011. It recalled that al-Qaeda had called for assassinations and suicide attacks worldwide to avenge the death of bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan on May 1, 2011. It expressed concern that the local al-Qaeda cell might act on this call.
The police wanted to keep tabs on the movements and activities of local cell members and their accomplices and learn about a possible attack in advance so it could be thwarted. Erantepli was listed in the police secret filing with the court on June 20, 2011 and described as an al-Qaeda suspect. The petition was signed by Ali Süllü, a police chief who was deputy intelligence head of the provincial police department. Judge Bülent Coşkun of the Malatya 3rd High Criminal Court, which has jurisdiction over terrorism cases in several provinces including Kahramanmaraş, granted the request for the wiretap on the same day. In ruling No.2011/1107, the judge underlined that the investigation was secret and must be kept confidential in a special vault in the courthouse in line with Turkish law.
Court ruling that approved police wiretap request for suspect Muharrem Erantepli:Erantepli_court_ruling
An additional document, stamped secret and submitted by the police for the judge’s review, also revealed Erantepli’s accomplice Işık was previously found to have been involved in a plot against Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. The chatter picked by what police intelligence described as credible sources indicated that Erantepli had frequently spoken with Işık, endorsing jihadist activities, and planned to make some noise during Kadyrov’s visit to the neighboring province of Adana in May 2010. The police and gendarmerie had to heighten security measures during the visit of Kadyrov and his 30-member delegation and did not allow any group to come in contact with his delegation.
The Kadyrov visit was about polishing credentials for the Chechen leader, whose government funded the excavation of the burial site of Chechen religious leader Sheik Mansur and his family members. The grave of Sheik Mansur, an important figure for the Chechens, was reportedly found in the village of İncetarla, located in the Seyhan district of iAdana province. Many Chechens who fled wars in Russia in the 1800s had settled in Turkish provinces, in particular Kahramanmaraş, Sivas and Adana.
Muharrem Erantepli’s links to a Chechen group that had mobilized against Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov:Erantepli_Chechen_leader
Nordic Monitor’s investigation also found that Erantepli was connected to Nurettin Yıldız, an extremist preacher who has often been described as the family cleric of Erdoğan because of his frequent keynote speaking engagements at both youth events organized by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and conferences and lectures sponsored by the Turkey Youth Foundation (TUGVA), run by Erdoğan’s family.
Yıldız is the cleric who helped radicalize the Turkish police officer who killed Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in December 2016. In the case concerning the assassinated Russian diplomat, the evidence in the indictment showed that hitman Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a 22-year-old riot police officer, frequented lectures given by Yıldız’s NGO, the Social Fabric Foundation (Sosyal Doku Vakfı). Altıntaş was in contact with this volunteer group starting in 2014, attending study circles led by Yıldız, and quickly became radicalized.
On his Facebook page Erantepli is seen hosting Yıldız as a keynote speaker on May 17, 2016 in a venue operated by the Kahramanmaraş Municipality. Yıldız himself admitted his connections to jihadist groups in Syria in a letter he wrote immediately after the leader of Ahrar al-Sham, Hassan Abboud, also known by the nom de guerre Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi, was killed in September 2014 in a suicide attack on a high-level meeting in Syria’s Idlib province. In the letter, dated September 10, 2014, Yıldız recalls how he made a trip to Idlib to meet Abu Abdullah and how they discussed the jihadist fight against the infidels. He described the killing of Abu Abdullah as “a great loss to the cause,” regretting that his invitation to host him in Istanbul had not come to fruition.
The prosecution decided to not press charges against the police officers who had investigated Muharrem Erantepli on al-Qaeda links:Erantepli_non_prosecution
In another photo, he was seen with Yonus Ekrimavi, an imam from the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on January 16, 2016.
The investigation into Erantepli became a problem for the Erdoğan government when a major police operation targeting al-Qaeda cells in January 2014 exposed how Turkish intelligence agency operatives were using al-Qaeda militants in Syria. The government quickly quashed the investigation and dismissed the prosecutors and police chiefs who exposed al-Qaeda’s links to the government. Erdoğan also ordered a halt all monitoring activities of al-Qaeda militants nationwide and launched an investigation into the investigators who ran surveillance on jihadist groups.
In the city of Kahramanmaraş, all police officers whose names appeared in the paperwork that secured the wiretap for Erantepli were the subject of both administrative and criminal investigations. The interior minister’s inspectors, hand-picked by the Erdoğan government, claimed in their report that the police chiefs violated Erantepli’s rights when they investigated him. They filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office for the criminal prosecution of 16 police officers including Süllü. However, on June 10, 2015 prosecutor Necati Kazak decided to not press charges against the police officers, saying that everything they had done was in full compliance with the law. Another complaint against the police officers was also dismissed by prosecutor Atilla Rahimi on February 20, 2015.