A chilling account of a suspect in the deadliest terror attack in Turkey that was blamed on Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) shows how ISIL militants can easily flee using the refugee routes through Greece and end up in European cities. The ISIL operative, apparently has links to Turkish intelligence, easily blended among refugees who crossed Europe and made his way back to Turkey after registering and living as a refugee for months in Germany.
His name is Suphi Alpfidan who was born on Nov.22, 1981 in Turkey’s border town Suruç in southeastern province Şanlıurfa. He was implicated in the case of a twin bombing that took place in Ankara on Oct. 10, 2015 — the deadliest terror attack ever to take place in Turkey, which killed 107 people including the two suicide bombers. The attack targeted NGOs and supporters of left-wing and pro-Kurdish parties holding a peace rally outside the capital’s main train station, weeks ahead of the Nov. 1, 2015 snap elections that gave Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party a chance to regain the majority in Parliament.
When forensic investigation discovered Alpfidan’s fingerprints inside the left rear door of the vehicle that was used as an escort vehicle to the car that was used in detonating bombs next to train station in downtown area of Turkish capital, he was issued an arrest warrant as an ISIL suspect. A report prepared by Gaziantep police crime scene investigation unit on October 23, 2015 with a case file No.2015/6286 confirmed that the fingerprint found in the car with a plate no.27 AVH 70 belonged to the right hand middle finger of Alpfidan who had been living in Şahinbey district in the southeastern province Gaziantep, a hotbed for ISIL militants.
Alpfidan knew most suspects involved in the bombing, provided them safe houses as real estate broker and secretly worked as informant with the Turkish intelligence. With so many causalities in the deadly suicide bombing, the attack created so much outrage in Turkey.
Feared about an imminent arrest, he fled Turkey in the first week of November right after the national elections. According to his own testimony in the case file, Alpfidan used the migrant smugglers he said found in Alsancak district of the western province İzmir and paid them $600 to get to Greek island Lesbos (Midilli) from İzmir’s coastal town Dikili.
He identified himself as a Syrian refugee from Kobane and assumed the fake name of Hussein Mahmood. He was accompanied by a man identified only with his first name as Velid, a veterinarian from Kobane and a relative of Alpfidan who said Velid spoke Arabic for both of them all the time. Greek authorities registered him as a refugee and provided him with a temporary identification. He then moved to Athens from the island and eventually ended up in Germany eight or nine days later by travelling with a group of refugees using buses and trains. He was placed in a refugee camp by German authorities. He said he met a Turkish man named Durmuş Dengiz while he was staying in a refugee camp and this man gave him a phone and frequently met him during his stay there.
Having spent some four months in Germany where he linked up with a network of acquaintances, Alpfidan decided to return to Turkey for reasons that are a not entirely clear. He received a new identity papers and temporary passport from the Turkish Consulate in German city of Mainz and later flew to Turkey’s southeastern province Antalya on March 3, 2016 and detained upon his arrival. His accomplice Velid stayed behind in Germany.
Alpfidan’s revelations in the ISIL case show that ISIL could easily send its militants to Europe by mingling them with refugees under assumed names. It remains a mystery why he suddenly decided to come back to Turkey where he will be detained because of two outstanding arrest warrants against him. Perhaps he knew people in higher-ups or somehow he was sure he will be protected. It turns out he was right. After a brief detention, Ankara prosecutor’s office decided to release him without even referral to the court for a formal arrest. A travel ban imposed on him which seems ridiculous given the fact that he had already fled the country through illegal means and could do it again if he wanted to do so.
The digital material seized from Yunus Durmaz, the senior ISIL operative in Turkey and one of the planners of the Ankara attack, revealed that Alpfidan has been on the payroll of ISIL for some time. In two excel documents that were found at the home of Durmaz, Alpfidan was listed with his code name ‘Suphi’ who received $220 and $570 in cash on two separate occasions. Alpfidan, worked as a real estate broker, knew most ISIL suspects that were charged in connection with the suicide bombing at train station in Ankara. He often met and had lunches with other ISIL suspects, arranged leasing some properties to them. He has been intimately involved with Halil İbrahim Durgun, Resul Demir, İbrahim Halil Alçay, Durmaz, all were listed as leading ISIL suspects in the case. He confessed that Durmaz often visited him in his business and at one time told him that he rented a warehouse close to the UN liaison office in Gaziantep.
The cell operated by Durmaz who was reportedly trained in Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous Turkish ISIL cells in Turkey. The secret ISIL communique that was exposed during the Ankara ISIL trial, it was this cell that planned attacks NATO troops as they were withdrawing Patriot missiles from Turkey. Durmaz was informing his handler in Syria that NATO is pulling out missiles from the provinces of Kahramanmaraş, Gaziantep and Adana via land routes to the port city İskenderun on Mediterranean. He said ISIL knew the routes being used by the NATO, added that Spanish, US and Dutch soldiers were deployed in three different provinces of Turkey. He suggested planting an IED on the roads used by the NATO to kill soldiers.
Another document titled NATO.docx, seized from Durmaz, revealed how ISIL gathered intelligence on military bases NATO and the US has been using in Turkey. The document details movements in and around bases. That shows ISIL has the capability of monitoring military movements in Turkish bases that were used by NATO allies, possibly suggesting it may have been furnished with information from inside Turkish government. Durmaz also worked on a plan to attack NATO when the alliance foreign ministers came to Turkey’s Mediterranean resort province Antalya on May 13, 2015. In a message he sent to ISIL leadership, Durmaz talked about security measures that were beefed up and said he sent militants to Antalya to find out which hotel the NATO meeting would take place.
Despite Alpfidan’s complicity in helping ISIL militants to find safe houses, depots and his intimate ties to many suspects in the case, his release after returning from Germany sounded quite bizarre indeed. In fact, it was later revealed that Alpfidan has had fingerprints all over the places in other ISIL cases in addition to Oct.10th bombing in Turkey according to a lawyer Özcan Karakoç who represented relatives of the victims in Ankara train station suicide bombing. During the hearing in the case on November 10, 2016, Karakoç said “the suspect fled the country after the bombing. It is not clear why he returned to Turkey. ISIL threat is still valid. He must be arrested at once. We’ll all be sorry if his fingerprints uncovered in yet another attack,” he told the court. The judges agreed and he was rearrested.
It looks like Alpfidan did not expect to be arrested and was in shock. In the next hearing held two days later, he made an unexpected plea in the court, saying that he wants to change his testimony. Demanding a protection for himself and his family members, Alpfidan said the police in Gaziantep was aware of ISIL activities in the province and he himself informed them about ISIL militant Halil İbrahim Durgun and safe houses run by ISIL before vehicle bombing attack against the police building in Gaziantep on May 1, 2016 that killed 2 police officers and wounded 23. The attack was blamed on ISIL. He revealed how he worked with Turkish intelligence officers and even named names. The court asked the police to confirm names provided by Alpfidan as intelligence officers whom he allegedly worked with.
In response to the court’s inquiry, Gaziantep police department said they were unable to identify and locate intelligence officers named by Alpfidan. But during the hearing held on May 4, 2017, Alpfidan’s lawyer Akın Deniz said their own private investigation revealed that one of the officers named as Bestami was promoted in the ranks while other faced an investigation. He said he does not have hopes for these two intelligence officers’ testimonials even if they are located. The most important claim in the proceedings was made by Esin Altıntuğ Durgun, the wife of Halil İbrahim Durgun who was among the organizers of Ankara attack and allegedly blew himself up during a police operation in Gaziantep on November 15, 2015 in order not to get caught. Esin Altıntuğ said she believed her husband was deliberately killed by police in order to hush him up because he knew too much.
Likewise, Durmaz, the mastermind of the Suruç and Ankara bomb attacks, was reportedly killed himself on May 2016 when police started to close in on his hideout. He had been under surveillance between 2012 and 2014 and intel stopped monitoring him after Erdoğan’s reshuffle of Turkish police. Although he was known well by authorities, he allegedly blew himself up when he faced a police raid.
There are so many burning questions around these key ISIL operatives in Turkey, how they operated with the knowledge and even support from the Turkish intelligence. Perhaps somebody has been taking out these guys to cover Turkish government’s tracks. If that is the case, Alpfidan would be next. By changing his testimony after a surprise arrest, Alpfidan might be signaling to his handlers in Turkish intelligence that he is ready to spill the beans on the clandestine operations that extend all the way to European cities. It remains to be seen whether Erdoğan regime elements will call his bluff.