The democratic Parliament in Turkey is no more

One of the most lethal blows dealt to the democratic functioning of the government, the rule of law and the legitimacy of the system of governance in Turkey was the adoption of recent changes to the bylaws of the Turkish Parliament right before the summer recess. The opposition’s role in overseeing the government’s actions, holding them to account and ensuring transparency, accountability and efficiency in the executive branch through motions, speeches, bills and debates has been significantly curtailed.

The Turkish Parliament has now become a dysfunctional body that is powerless in preventing misuse, abuse and waste of state resources. If the extent and the degree by which the opposition is granted powers to scrutinize actions and policies of the government are among important markers for judging the maturity of a democratic system, Turkey has hit the bottom with the elimination of important means provided to the opposition in the parliamentary bylaws. That actually defied the benchmarks set up by the Council of Europe with which Turkey is committed to comply as one of the founding members.

The bylaws restricted the powers of the opposition parties to participate in or review legislative acts, limited their role in supervising the executive branch, cut back on speaking times and restricted venues for moving motions, proposals and amendments in the plenary. The immunities for members of Parliament were narrowed, their right to exercise freedom of speech was restricted and unwarranted disciplinary actions were brought forward such as insulting the president or the common history of Turks.

Given the fact that Erdoğan has been able push any bills he liked through Parliament, albeit at times with difficulty and through time-consuming processes, the main motivation behind these recent changes is to silence critical and opposition voices that are being heard from the podium of Parliament. The Turkish media is now under the almost full control of the Erdoğan government, with 275 journalists jailed, 109 more wanted for arrest and 200 media outlets shuttered and seized. Parliament remains perhaps the only venue for opposition and critical voices to be heard by the public. Erdoğan has gone after that last sanctuary and succeeded in muffling critical voices by and large with the removal of key powers of the opposition groups.

The changes, pushed forward by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and his nationalists partners, violate Resolution 1601 (2008) that was adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Jan. 23, 2008 titled “Procedural guidelines on the rights and responsibilities of the opposition in a democratic parliament.” Turkey has also distanced itself further from the guidelines adopted by the CoE’s Venice Commission (aka the European Commission for Democracy through Law), which issued an opinion on “the role of the opposition in a democratic society” on Oct. 15-16, 2010.

The bylaws of the Turkish Parliament had been in effect for 44 years since they were approved on March 5, 1973. Erdoğan attempted to change them several times but decided to drop it when the uproar by the opposition forced him to rethink the move. When he finally consolidated his powers after an April 16, 2017 constitutional referendum that gave him imperial powers, he pushed that change again with the help of a yearlong emergency rule that put the major opposition parties on the ropes, with many lawmakers being arrested and prosecuted amid mass persecution. He gave legislators their orders on June 13, 2017 in his parliamentary group speech during which he said Parliament must not go to recess without making changes to the bylaws. On the last day of the parliamentary session, July 27, 2017, the proposal to change the bylaws was debated and approved in the plenary. It was published on Aug 1, 2017 in the Official Gazette, thereby going into effect.

The changes were ostensibly made to speed up the lawmaking process in Parliament, which is not found to be credible given the fact that Erdoğan had been able to rush bills through commissions and the plenary using the AKP’s majority. Whenever his party felt the heat, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a former foe-turned-new-ally, quickly came to the AKP’s aid. What is more, the focus should be more on the quality of the lawmaking process rather than hastily adopted laws without involving all the stakeholders in the process, from civil society and academia to the media and others. The AKP-controlled Parliament has already done away with the impact analyses of impending bills that are required to avoid unintended consequences before they are approved by Parliament.

As a result, the imposing and overbearing attitude of the AKP has overcome a compromise approach in the legislative process in the Turkish Parliament, which opens Parliament’s acts up to further questions in terms of legitimacy and general acceptance in the society. For example, with the revised Article 3 of the parliamentary bylaws, Erdoğan hopes to disqualify popular opposition lawmakers from acquiring immunity status from politically motivated criminal prosecution. The change requires that deputies take an oath to enjoy parliamentary privileges even if they win the elections. Because jailed deputies would not be able to take to the podium for the swearing-in ceremony, Erdoğan’s AKP will strip the parliamentary status of these lawmakers. The same also goes for others who are prevented from attending sessions for various reasons.

The amendment that changed Article 19 of the bylaws halved the amount of the time allowed for opposition parties to speak when they submit a motion to the agenda in the plenary. Previously, each political party group had the right to advance their own motions and was allowed to speak for 10 minutes for a deputy and 20 minutes in total for a group. The groups that opposed the motion had the same rights. This is actually the main tool used by the opposition in Parliament to raise their voices on various issues and offer opposing views. With the changes, the time allotted for the opposition was reduced to five minutes for a member of Parliament who moves the motion and three for those who oppose it. Likewise, Article 63 of the bylaws was changed to cut back time for deputies who raise procedural debates in the plenary from 10 to three minutes.

The changes to Article 37 of the parliamentary bylaws drastically reduced the rights of each deputy in Parliament to propose bills in the plenary. Every lawmaker now has only one shot at moving a bill in the plenary in one legislative session, which could be as long a period as the time between elections. Moreover, political party groups would have to take turns each week in moving such bills in the plenary. Considering that there are currently four political party groups in the Turkish Parliament, each political group would have only one chance in a month to propose a draft bill in the plenary. In both cases, this right can only be exercised on Tuesdays. As a result, the opposition’s right to suggest draft bills was seriously undermined. This is for the benefit for Erdoğan’s ruling AKP, which has a majority in Parliament, while punishing opposition parties and independent deputies.

The revamped Article 57 of the bylaws limited the opposition’s right to have a roll call in the plenary to determine whether there are a sufficient number of members to hold the session. This was also another important instrument used by the opposition to slow down rushed bills during debates. Interestingly enough, ruling party lawmakers often fail to have the required number of legislators in the plenary, giving the opposition more opportunities to request roll calls.

The change to Article 73 removed the opposition’s right to submit an oral amendment to the parliament speaker’s actions in reshuffling bills to the relevant commission. It now requires that the amendments be submitted in writing. Article 81 states that the visual assessment of the parliament speaker in moving or dropping the articles of a draft bill during a debate will be enough unless a total of 20 lawmakers request a formal count. This will make it difficult to identify how each lawmaker voted on a specific bill, articles and amendments during the debate and make it impossible to determine how many voted for a change to draft bills. Not knowing how lawmakers voted on a specific issue casts a long shadow on the track record of lawmakers in the eyes of their constituencies and should be regarded as a serious blow to accountability and transparency.

The change to Article 102 removed the opposition’s right to have motions for a general debate or the establishment of an inquiry commission read out loud in its entirety in the plenary. Instead, a summary of the motion will be forwarded to lawmakers and the government in advance. That robs the public of the right to know what the general debate or motion for the establishment of an inquiry commission is about. These motions are important tools for the opposition to expose wrongdoing within the government and generate public interest and discussion. For example, through these motions Turks were able to learn how Erdoğan’s AKP refused dozens of motions on investigating Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) networks in Turkey because they implied the complicity of Erdoğan and his associates.

Article 160 was changed to impose penalties and disciplinary actions on lawmakers who disrupt the plenary by bringing placards, banners and similar materials to the assembly floor. The change is quite subjective and open to all sorts of interpretation. It may very well be used to censure opposition lawmakers who exercise their right to freedom of speech in various forms. In the past the lawmakers staged various protests in Parliament such as wearing T-shirts that advocated freedom of the press, carrying pictures of jailed lawmakers and wearing hard hats to remember victims of mining accidents. They can now be subject to disciplinary action under this change.

Article 161 sees the temporary expulsion of lawmakers from the plenary when he or she offends or insults the Turkish president, parliament speaker other lawmakers; levels accusations against the history of Turkey and its common past; or mocks the constitutional order and questions regime structures that are accepted in the constitution. These are very broad and vague definitions that are often exploited in Turkey, especially in the criminal justice system, where thousands of people are charged with insulting Erdoğan, defaming the Turkish nation or attempting to change the constitutional order. The change would dramatically restrict the freedom of speech of the lawmakers in the Turkish Parliament. Disciplinary actions such as expulsion are also reinforced with fines such as cutting the salaries of lawmakers, which would further discourage them from speaking up.

Although these changes that were approved by Parliament are in violation of constitutional articles, there is no chance for the opposition to have them annulled even if they file a petition with the top court. Everybody knows that the Constitutional Court is tightly controlled by Erdoğan and would not be able to render any decision that is not to the liking of Turkey’s authoritarian ruler. The arrest of two justices of the Constitutional Court last year on trumped-up coup charges despite their immunity was a shot fired by Erdoğan across the bow of Turkey’s top court. The court has since been handing down decisions that are nothing but rubberstamp rulings according to the whims and emotions of the Turkish president. As a result, the role of legislature in checking government actions and bringing issues to public debate has been effectively wiped out with the recent changes.

Turkey as we know it has ceased to exist, with pluralist democratic structures dismantled, the rule of law suspended and the legislative role of overseeing government actions no longer tolerated.

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Erdoğan’s phantom Islamist menace in the US

wo Turkish foundations managed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family members and associates have actively been working to lure US Muslim students on trips to Turkey as part of the proselytizing activities of Turkey’s Islamist government, which is bent on penetrating the American Muslim community with a view to creating its very own fifth column.

The ideological underpinnings of these two foundations, the Ensar Foundation and the Foundation of Youth and Education in Turkey (TÜRGEV), are rooted in political Islamist activism with alarming jihadist leanings. There are certainly enough reasons to be concerned about their real intentions in the US. The two organizations jointly created the Turken Foundation in the US in June 2014, registered as a 501(C)3 not-for-profit educational organization by the US Internal Revenue Service. The leaked emails of Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak reveal that all of Erdoğan’s family members have been involved in getting the project off the ground.

When examined as to who drives the ideological basis for these foundations, two controversial names come to light that give some indication of where this project may be heading. One is Hayrettin Karaman, also known as the chief fatwa (religious edict) giver for Erdoğan, who he effectively declared caliph. Karaman, who openly advocated the view that all Muslims are obligated under Islam to support Erdoğan, is in fact a Turkish version of the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Yosuf Qaradawi, who endorsed suicide bombings and armed rebellion in Syria.

Karaman used distorted Islamic jurisprudence to justify the massive persecution of Erdoğan’s critics, especially the Gülen movement, that resulted in the jailing of over 50,000 people in the last year alone including thousands of women and hundreds of children. He approved the murder of a few for the larger good, paving the way to legitimizing the extrajudicial killings perpetrated by Erdoğan’s regime. He strongly rejected interfaith dialogue among religions, exonerated major corruption in the Erdoğan government and asked for non-Muslim treatment for the opponents of the president in Turkey.

“If it was necessary to use an instrument to make a journey toward Islam step by step under the conditions in which we found ourselves, we used that instrument. This could have been a concept, an institution or political party,” he wrote on May 25, 2014 in an op-ed titled “Democracy, Majority, Secularism and Islam.” In other words, he was saying that the democratic processes that helped Erdoğan come to power in Turkey are nothing but tools to be exploited to achieve the ultimate goal of creating an Islamist dictatorship.

This cleric is a revered figure among the leadership of the Ensar Foundation and was featured as a keynote speaker at many panel discussions organized by the foundation. İsmail Cenk Dilberoğlu, president of the Ensar Foundation, has been posting messages of support for him on his Twitter account. In one tweet he was pictured meeting with him at his home. The foundation’s publishing arm prints Karaman’s books and distributes them to readers. Dilberoğlu and Erdoğan’s son Bilal are buddies from when the two attended an imam-hatip religious school. Bilal is a frequent visitor and keynote speaker at many Ensar events, showing up for the inauguration of Ensar branches in Turkish cities and towns. In fact, when he inaugurated the opening of the Bahçelieveler branch of Ensar in Istanbul on Jan. 9, 2015, Bilal Erdoğan said the person he talks to the most after his wife is Dilberoğlu. It is clear that the Turkish government’s resources are at the disposal of Ensar, whose president Dilberoğlu also has a chair on the board of directors of Turkey’s national flag carrier, Turkish Airlines (THY).

Another ideologue who has been active in programs run by Ensar and other pro-government NGOs is Nureddin Yıldız, a radical cleric who has endorsed jihadist wars from Syria to China. He had close ties to the leader of Ahrar al-Sham, Hassan Abboud, also known by the nom de guerre Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi, who was killed in September 2014. Yıldız had pictures with Abboud during a visit to İdlib. Abdallah Muhammad Bin Sulayman Al-Muhaysini, an Al-Qaeda cleric of Saudi origin who is among the leaders of al-Qaeda group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in Syria, urged Turks to read the books of Yıldız, in a special video message addressed to Turkey.

Yıldız has been a lecturer at Ensar programs and has given his blessing to marrying girls as young as six, which sparked outrage in Turkey. But the criminal probe was dropped when Erdoğan intervened in the judicial process to save him from legal problems. In March 2016 Ensar was hit by a rape scandal affecting as many as 45 boys who were molested by a teacher working at an unofficial, Ensar-run dormitory in the city of Karaman between 2012 and 2015. As a result of the public outrage, the teacher was indicted and later convicted on 10 confirmed cases involving boys, but the foundation was spared a criminal probe, and the investigation into other cases was prevented from moving forward.

Despite the scandal, Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) stood by Ensar, with then-Minister for Family and Social Policies Sema Ramazanoğlu downplaying the incident and calling it a “one-time event.” The AKP even rejected a motion in Parliament to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the incident, only to reverse its position after a public backlash. The Turkish president has since continued to appear at Ensar Foundation’s events to deliver speeches in Turkey and abroad. Ensar’s Ankara office is a popular place for Turkish ministers and senior bureaucrats.

Now these foundations are bringing Muslim students from the US through their non-profit front NGO the Turken Foundation under cultural and educational schemes and subjecting them to the mindset of this dangerous religious zealotry. They cultivate candidates from venues such as annual conventions held by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and the Muslim American Society (MAS). Erdoğan’s daughter Sümeyye as well as Turkey’s Ambassador to the US Serdar Kılıç appeared at an ICNA-MAS event in December 2016 while Turken’s booth in the exhibition hall was signing up Muslim youths for their programs.

This is like a homecoming for Erdoğan’s henchmen since MAS was set up by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose exiled leaders enjoy strong backing and generous funding from the AKP government. ICNA is believed to be associated with Jamaat-e-Islami, a South Asian Islamist group that also has links to the Erdoğan government. In fact, relations between Turkey and the Bangladeshi government soured in recent years when Erdoğan started bashing and bullying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina over her crackdown on the Jamaat-e-Islami network, a group that the Bangladeshi government claimed was linked to terror. Turken is working with these Muslim groups in the US on behalf of the Turkish president.

Erdoğan tapped his cousin Halil Mutlu to lead Turken in the US when it was set up in 2014. In February 2016 Mutlu was replaced by Behram Turan, a founding member and former president of the Noor-Ul-Iman School in New Jersey, affiliated with the Islamic Society of Central Jersey (ISCJ). When Erdoğan goes to the US, he delivers speeches at Turken events. For example, he addressed some 150 Muslim students when on April 2, 2016 he inaugurated the Diyanet Center of America, a 20,236-square-foot mosque complex that was built in Lanham, Maryland, with $110 million provided by Turkey. He spoke at another event organized by Turken at New York’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Sept. 22, 2016. Turken is setting up student houses and a dormitory in New York, with more planned in other countries. It organized a trip of 30 students to Turkey in 2016 and another one in the summer of 2017.

It has become rather routine now to see non-Turkish Muslim groups being invited to private events with senior Turkish officials who come to the US on official or personal business. When Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Erdoğan’s lackey, visited the US on March 22, 2017, Egyptian Muslims linked to the Muslim Brotherhood attended a political campaign event for Erdoğan’s ruling party. For example, Mahmoud El Sharkawy, spokesman for the MB-linked group Egyptian Americans for Freedom and Justice (EAFJ), was among those who attended Çavuşoğlu’s event. It was no coincidence that El Sharkawy was the point man in linking up with MB members sheltered and funded by the Erdoğan government in Turkey. When Çavuşoğlu bashed the West for being anti-Islam and fearful of Turkey at an event in New York, El Sharkawy and company cheered him.

Erdoğan and his family members are keen to conflate politics and religion in their phantom maneuvers to penetrate the US Muslim community, hoping to incite them to action on their behalf when they feel it necessary and useful to advance their political goals. The leaked emails of Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak revealed how Erdoğan’s operatives funded and organized anti-Egypt rallies in New York in November 2013. The operative, named Halil Danışmaz, who then led another front NGO called the Turkish Heritage Organization, reported to Albayrak and Erdoğan’s son Bilal that an Egyptian group was meeting every week under their care and that even the slogans on placards that were displayed at protests were prepared by Turkey.

Turning conventions organized by US Muslim groups such as MAS-ISNA into platforms where the Turkish Islamist rulers attack their critics is another worrying development. Muslim diaspora groups from Central Asia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Balkans as well as from North and sub-Saharan Africa are targeted by Erdoğan’s operatives as recruitment grounds to enlist supporters in US Muslim communities. The threat the phantom menace Erdoğan and his Islamist thugs pose to US national security with overt and covert attempts as they try to influence American Muslim society with ideologues like Karaman, Yıldız and other radical clerics must be tackled head-on before morphing into something more challenging.

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Erdoğan plots murders to shore up his rule in Turkey

Having staged a fake coup to consolidate his power and justify the unprecedented crackdown on opposition and critical groups, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s dictator president, is now contemplating orchestrating assassinations at home targeting high-profile figures and murders abroad to intimidate and silence his critics in exile.

Erdoğan, a hard-core Islamist who modeled the alarming transformation in Turkey away from a secular parliamentary democracy on the Iranian revolution, has been following a pattern similar to that of the mullahs, from investing in armed proxies to false flags to sustain and strengthen his rule. He has already used up assassination scenarios that ostensibly targeted him and his daughter Sümeyye, only to have grown more frustrated to see that the plots fell apart when investigations exposed inconsistences in the allegations despite his grip on the judiciary and media landscape in Turkey.

He got what he wanted with the false flag coup bid of July 15, 2016, which helped him gain an imperial presidency with no checks and balances in governance and no accountability whatsoever for his reign as caliph. Yet his actions have come under increasing scrutiny, criticism and pressure from Turkey’s allies and partners, who find Erdoğan’s story-line on the coup and other claims not credible at all. The Turkish president is left struggling to convince the world that his actions in jailing over 50,000 people including 275 journalists, a world record, by the way, were warranted and a measured response. Now he desperately needs a new excuse that will top off what he has done so far in his dirty scheme of clandestine business to cling to power.

Erdoğan has already established his scapegoats — the Gülen movement in particular, and the West in general — for this outrageous plot to kill senior figures in Turkey. His media machine has been busy prepping the groundwork for the chaos scenario that was purportedly planned by the major powers to invade, occupy and dismember Turkey. The Turkish president and his Islamist associates as well as neo-nationalist coalition partners have not done anything to discourage these spurious claims, but rather fan them with xenophobic remarks across the country. Hence, Erdoğan will put Turkey’s interlocutors on the defensive by continuing to make claims of conspiracies through public accusations in fired-up rally speeches and publishing spin stories in his propagandist media.

By doing so, Erdoğan will keep undermining the independent opposition groups that he has failed to coopt with incentives such as money and positions in the government or could not scare through intimidation. This is crucial for his rule leading up to the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections that are key for his survival given the worsening economic outlook, growing security challenges in Turkey and its neighborhood and festering antagonism among various social and ethnic groups

The Turkish president has no problem convincing the domestic audience with his total control of the media, judiciary and Parliament. A steady stream of inflammatory rhetoric in Erdoğan’s media lays the groundwork for blaming government shortcomings on scapegoats. For example, whoever you talk to in Turkey, you hardly hear a challenging narrative of the Gülen movement being scapegoated for last year’s fake coup or foreign powers being blamed for anything that goes wrong in Turkey. This is as bad as it gets in the world of alternative facts and fake news of Erdoğan’s regime. Anybody, be it journalists, judges, academics or members of Parliament who dare to raise questions about the official narrative, immediately gets vilified, persecuted and even thrown in jail on fabricated charges.

What Erdoğan finds difficult to do is persuade his global partners of the fabricated story of boogeymen coming after him. For that he needs to cook up something terrible with the hope that they will this time around believe him. There is a precedent for his behavior. He hijacked major anti-government rallies in the summer of 2013 by having marginal and violent groups attach themselves to peaceful environmental protestors. He used armed jihadist groups to stage terror acts in Turkey to gain popularity and steal the elections in 2015 while provoking the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to violence in order for him to derail the peace process that was launched to settle the Kurdish conflict.

However, the critical groups that have left to live in self-exile to escape the crackdown and which have organized themselves in exposing Erdoğan’s regime pose a major challenge to Erdoğan’s plans to move forward. Therefore, Erdoğan strongly feels that this nuisance must be dealt with. He has already said on the record that he will chase his main critics, the Gülen movement, wherever they are in the world, and hunt them down, and even claiming that they have no right to life. My sources are telling me that Turkey’s notorious National Intelligence Organization (MİT) has already set up a working group in Ankara’s dark corridors to coordinate assassinations of major critics abroad. Given the fact that MİT has carried out similar executions before, this information does not sound far-fetched. With this move, Erdoğan hopes to silence critical voices, kill the counter-narratives and suppress opposition groups in exile.

The information I have been able to glean from several sources suggests this goes beyond mere suspicion and rumor but is rather an actual plan that will have profound consequences for Turkey as well as those who have an interest in the future orientation of Turkey. Erdoğan has already secured key power centers such as the military, judiciary, business community and media groups to make this plan fly with public opinion. The impact of such a move on economic stability is no deterrence for Erdoğan, who feels there is no honorable exit for him from the political scene, anyway. Therefore, his path to such an outrageous murder spree in Turkey and abroad appears to have been cleared. For that, those who have a stake in Turkey’s future have good reason to remain concerned.

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Turkey’s MİT intel agency saved ISIL executioner from legal troubles

The Turkish government knew all Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) suspects, monitored their activities and put surveillance on them but did not do much to crack down on the militant network because it was a handy tool in the armed rebellion in Syria and served political interests back home. The notorious National Intelligence Organization (MİT), led by the Turkish president’s close confidante, Hakan Fidan, aided and abetted ISIL militants and rushed to save them from legal problems when they ran into trouble with the law.

Surprisingly, the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government even acknowledged the failure to crack down on ISIL militants when former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu inadvertently admitted in a live TV interview with NTV on Oct. 12, 2015 that they [ISIL suspects] are kept in the records but that legal action cannot be taken until the commission of a criminal act.

His remarks came two days after the deadliest terror attack that has ever taken place in Turkey, which killed 107 people when two suicide bombers targeted NGOs and supporters of left-wing and pro-Kurdish parties holding a peace rally outside the Turkish capital’s main train station, just weeks ahead of the Nov. 1, 2015 snap elections. On Oct.19, 2015, appearing on AHaber, he said his party’s popularity had increased after the attacks according to a poll the AKP had just conducted. When the indictment on the Oct. 10 suicide attack was finally submitted to the court, the evidence showed that the government knew all the suspects and kept tabs on them all the time, yet failed to act on the intelligence, perhaps deliberately.

Digging into the background of an ISIL suspect and fugitive listed in 20th place in the Ankara indictment reveals that he had been allowed to operate freely despite previous detention, surveillance and a body of incriminating evidence collected against him. His name is Ahmet Güneş (aka Abdulhakim), who had been working with Yunus Durmaz and Halil İbrahim Durgun, the masterminds of the Oct. 10 attack. Güneş (born Sept. 2, 1987) is a resident of the town of Şahinbey in Turkey’s southeastern border province of Gaziantep, where ISIL is known to have a strong presence. He faces an arrest warrant issued on April 5, 2016 by the Ankara 4th Criminal Court of Peace.

Güneş was detained on March 25, 2014 during a routine police check on the highway between Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa, two provinces located on the Turkish-Syrian border. When the police officers signaled the driver Mustafa Delibaşlar to stop the car, bearing license plate 27 R 4081, they noticed that the passengers (Güneş and another man identified as Ökkeş Durmaz) threw something out of the car’s window towards the bushes on the roadside. When they searched, police found a hard drive, a flash card, a memory card and a black ski mask. ISIL-related materials later turned up in their house when police went through their residences as well.

The examination of the Toshiba hard drive, serial no. Z3CRP49RTRE8, revealed close to six-minute-long gruesome video footage that showed Güneş joining in the execution of a hostage taken in Syria’s Latakia. About 15 men were instructed by Durmaz to fire bullets into the body of the hostage, and Güneş was explaining in Arabic what the shooting was about while he was using his AK-47 to shoot at the hostage. Stressing that the hostage was a blessing from God, Güneş called the man an infidel and thanked God for delivering him before the killing. It appears to have been recorded as part of a promotional video done by ISIL to attract more recruits. There were other images and footage that showed Güneş participating in arms training at the camps. Güneş kept mostly silent during the questioning at the police station and was later referred to court, along with the other two suspects, for an arraignment hearing, during which the court ruled to arrest them, on March 27, 2014.

The indictment was filed on charges of membership in a terror group, and a court case was launched on April 22, 2014. At the first hearing held at the Gaziantep 5th High Criminal Court, Güneş defended himself, saying he was forced to take part in the execution of the hostage by ISIL and feared for his life if he did not shoot at the victim. He claimed that he went to Syria to study in a madrasah and was picked out to make a scripted speech during the execution because he had the best Arabic of all the others in the crowd. He also denied the charges of membership in ISIL and demanded to be acquitted, as did the other two suspects in the case.

During the second hearing, on May 27, 2014, the court asked the prosecutor’s office to file separate murder charges against Güneş based on the video evidence and the suspect’s own admission of his involvement in the execution of the unidentified Syrian man. Yet Güneş, who faced both terror and premeditated murder charges, was surprisingly let go by the unanimous decision of all three judges at the third hearing on Oct. 30, 2014 along with the two other suspects. The release came after Turkey’s MİT sent a letter to the court saying that the suspects had nothing to do with ISIL. The letter also said al-Qaeda and ISIL are two separate groups, providing the defense lawyer with the opportunity to make an argument that his clients should be freed because the original investigation was kicked off as an al-Qaeda probe in 2012 but later morphed into an ISIL investigation. MİT, which armed, funded and trafficked jihadist fighters to Syria to oust Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political enemy Bashar al-Assad from power, rushed to the aid of a known jihadist in the nick of time and secured his release.

On March 6, 2015, a public prosecutor launched a new case against Güneş at the Gaziantep 5th High Criminal Court on murder charges based on the video footage, demanding a life sentence. But Güneş had gone missing soon after he was released and never showed up at three hearings on murder charges. The court imposed a travel ban on Güneş before releasing him, a measure that would mean nothing given the fact that he had been in Syria many times before and would be fleeing there at the first opportunity he got. As expected, that is exactly what happened, and MİT saved another jihadist from Turkey’s criminal justice system.

Among the contents of the hard drive were also confidential files prepared by the Gendarmerie General Command, the main law enforcement agency in border and rural areas in Turkey. The documents explain how the Turkish gendarmerie gathers intelligence, registers information and processes data, adopts counter espionage measures, turns suspects into informants and implements protective safety measures. Another document shows how suspects should act during processing in the criminal justice system when they get caught. Güneş’s maintaining his silence while in police custody on ISIL charges, pleading not guilty at the arraignment hearing and defending himself with a made-up story against incriminating evidence suggests he was very well trained on how to act and had familiarized himself with the measures mentioned in the seized confidential documents. That suggests Güneş had help from inside, most likely from MİT, which had saved him from the criminal justice system when he got caught. He was evading police and military surveillance with the help of MİT.

In the meantime, the Gaziantep court ruled on the terror charges against the three suspects including Güneş on Oct. 22, 2015, 12 days after the deadly Ankara suicide attack in which Güneş was also implicated. The court acquitted Mustafa Delibaşlar and Ökkeş Durmaz although both men were fugitives after their release and known to be key operatives of ISIL in Syria and Turkey. As for Güneş, the court sentenced him to seven years, six months based on evidence that showed his arms training in ISIL camps and murder. In a mind-boggling ruling, the court later reduced the jail sentence for fugitive Güneş based on what it said was good behavior displayed by the defendant during the hearings before he was released from pretrial detention.

Turkish police intelligence had been surveilling Güneş since 2012 as part of a 19-member cell that was initially flagged as an al-Qaeda network in Gaziantep and later monitored for their links to ISIL. The two-year surveillance showed Güneş and others under the leadership of Yunus Durmaz had been actively promoting jihadist ideology through two shell associations, raising funds, attending the funerals of militants who were killed in Syria, promoting ISIL with flag waving ceremonies during weddings and organizing meetings and trainings in wooded areas that attracted as many as 70 people. Yunus Durmaz was killed during a police raid on an ISIL safe house in Gaziantep’s Şehit Kamil district in May 2016 when he detonated a suicide vest. Güneş’s nephew İsmail Güneş blew himself up in a bomb-laden vehicle in front of Gaziantep police headquarters on May 1, 2016, causing the death of three police officers.

Ahmet Güneş, saved by Turkey’s intelligence agency MİT from his court troubles, is believed to still be operating in Syria. His release despite substantial evidence collected against him confirms the revolving door policy of the Erdogan-led Islamist government that allows jihadists to go free when they run into trouble with the law. Former Prime Minister Davutoğlu, a family friend of MİT head Fidan, was right. The government knew all ISIL operatives but did not do anything because they were useful pawns in the bloody and dirty game set up by the Islamist rulers who have been pursuing Islamist policies in Turkey and abroad. Güneş’s case joins dozens of other ISIL cases where militants were allowed to act with impunity because of the protective shield provided by the Erdogan regime, which has full control of the criminal justice system in Turkey.

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Erdoğan deliberately thwarts Parliament inquiries about ISIL in Turkey

Turkey’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government not only protects jihadist groups including Islamic State and al-Qaeda militants from the wrath of the criminal justice system by means of a revolving door policy where showcasing arrests often results in releases, but also pursues a systematic and deliberate policy of preventing the legislative branch from investigating these lethal networks in Turkey. Dozens of motions have been struck down by Erdoğan’s party in the Turkish Parliament since 2015, while opposition lawmakers who made serious allegations about government connections to jihadists were arrested and intimidated.

Article 98 of the Turkish Constitution empowers the legislative body to supervise the executive branch through several tools such as inquiries, debates, questions and investigations in parliament commissions and the plenary. The review of legislative actions by the opposition and ruling parties on ISIL, al-Qaeda and other radical groups leaves no room for doubt that the Erdoğan government has cast a wide protective web over extremist religious groups. Every time a motion asking for the establishing of an investigation commission to probe in-depth all aspects of ISIL, al-Qaeda and jihadist terror networks was tabled, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP helped defeat these motions from moving forward with the majority of votes it controls in the legislative body. There is no exception to this pattern. The motions that are still pending are doomed to fail just like others before them were killed by Erdoğan’s thugs.

The main reason for this obstruction by Erdoğan and his AKP is because Islamist rulers do not want to take a chance on risking exposure of their jihadist accomplices even if the AKP has control of the votes, witnesses and procedures in such investigation commissions with the majority of seats it holds. The Turkish president knows that if Parliament agrees to set up an investigation commission, minority members may get a chance to reveal how his government aided and abetted radical groups, while witnesses who are summoned may inadvertently let something embarrassing and even damaging slip that may very well put the government in a difficult and incriminating position.

The best snapshot on government behavior regarding this pattern was taken when pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Mahmut Toğrul and 21 of his colleagues co-signed a proposal on Dec. 28, 2015 to establish an investigation commission in Parliament to probe whether measures, if any, taken against the ISIL network in Turkey are effective. The motion was debated in the plenary on June 29, 2016 and defeated with the votes of Erdoğan’s AKP. The motion was suddenly moved to the agenda a day after three ISIL suicide attackers bombed İstanbul Atatürk Airport and left 45 people dead, on June 28, 2016. All three bombers reportedly had no record of entry to Turkey, suggesting that they traveled illegally or on forged documents. On the day the HDP’s motion on ISIL was defeated, two separate motions were filed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on investigating all terror groups including ISIL. They were voted down by Erdoğan’s loyalists in Parliament as well.

Erdoğan’s policy of sidelining Parliament in probing ISIL and other radical jihadist organizations has been consistently rendering all other motions filed by opposition parties impossible. Some have already been rejected and others are waiting their turn to be killed by Erdoğan’s henchmen in Parliament. Let’s look at some of the other motions that were filed in Parliament by the opposition parties. The legislative actions often came against the backdrop of deadly terror attacks in Turkey that were blamed on ISIL, or some revelations that exposed the AKP’s links to jihadists. On Aug. 12, 2015, a motion endorsed by 24 lawmakers from the opposition CHP asked Parliament to establish an investigation commission to probe Russian allegations that ISIL’s oil smuggling network through Turkey implicated Erdoğan’s family members. The AKP prevented the motion even from debate in the plenary, where it would have had zero chance of surviving given the fact Erdoğan’s lawmakers have the majority in the General Assembly.

On Nov. 27, 2015, opposition lawmaker İdris Balüken of the HDP presented a similar motion to look into allegations of oil smuggling by ISIL through the Turkish-Syrian border. The motion recalled statements by Russian and Iraqi officials that pointed out ISIL oil smuggling routes through Turkey and stated that Turkey would be in a difficult position internationally if these allegations turned out to be true. The motion did not succeed in paving the way to establishing an investigation commission. Balüken is now in jail on trumped-up charges. On Dec. 12, 2015, CHP deputy Veli Ağbaba led 22 lawmakers in signing a proposal that asked for the formation of an investigation commission to look into ISIL. Ağbaba and the co-signers of the motion accused the government of preventing Parliament from investigating ISIL, adding that the lack of an effective probe into ISIL and arms transfers from Turkey to Syria had led to further attacks in Turkey. It was again thwarted by Erdoğan’s people in Parliament.

On Dec. 14, 2015, a fresh motion by the HDP demanding an inquiry into three deadly ISIL attacks that took place in Turkey was presented in Parliament. The motion said a shadowy network nested in the government orchestrated these ISIL attacks and allowed suicide bombers to cross the Syrian border. In one case, the motion stated, an ISIL suspect was detained only to be released a day before he staged an attack at an HDP pre-election rally on June 5, 2015 in Diyarbakır that left four people dead. The attack took place two days before Turkey’s June 7 parliamentary elections, which resulted in the AKP’s loss of its majority in Parliament. Erdoğan engineered snap polls to regain the majority in the Nov. 1, 2015 elections.

Just as in 2015, the year 2016 saw similar motions on ISIL that were moved forward by opposition lawmakers brushed aside, thanks but no thanks to Erdoğan’s obstructionist policies in Parliament. For example, on Jan. 12, 2016, the HDP submitted a motion asking for the establishment of an investigation commission to look into 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. The motion said the AKP government knew the key suspects in this attack, which took place with the knowledge and approval of the government. It has not yet been taken up for debate. Two more motions were submitted to Parliament on the same issue, on April 12, 2016 and Oct. 11, 2016.

On Jan. 13, 2016, the HDP asked Parliament to form a commission to inquire about ISIL suicide attacks. The motion came a day after a suicide attack blamed on ISIL that killed 12 German nationals in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district. It alleged that the government is allowing transfers of ISIL militants through the Turkish-Syrian border and protecting ISIL cells in Turkey from a police crackdown. The motion is still pending. Frustrated by the AKP’s policy of voting against motions on ISIL, the CHP lambasted the government in a proposal presented to Parliament on Feb. 24, 2016 in which it stated that the government’s attempt to silence the opposition and media about ISIL raises more questions on the complicity of the government in the expansion of the ISIL network in Turkey.

On Feb. 29, 2016, another motion by the HDP was presented in Parliament asking for a probe into allegations of links between ISIL and the AKP government. The motion referred to new documents that revealed contacts between ISIL operatives and Turkish military officers at the border according to wiretap records that were uncovered during an ISIL trial at the Ankara 3rd High Criminal Court. The motion accused the government of supporting the ISIL, Nusra Front and Ahrar u-Sham jihadist groups in Syria. The information that came to a light during the trial showed a secret deal was made between ISIL and Turkish security forces in the border area that allowed the transfer of supplies and helped rescue hostages held by ISIL. The motion is still pending although there is zero chance of it succeeding on the Parliament floor.

On July 19, 2016, the CHP submitted a motion on ISIL alleging that the AKP government has not only aided jihadist groups in Syria including ISIL but also shied away from calling ISIL a terror group for a long time. It said hundreds of ISIL militants were released from the criminal justice system and that this was admitted by the justice minister himself. It asked for the establishment of parliamentary investigation commission to examine all aspects of the ISIL network in Turkey. The motion is still pending. On Aug. 25, 2016, the HDP submitted a new motion to investigate ISIL’s suicide attack on a wedding in Turkey’s southeastern Gaziantep province that killed a total of 56 people, including 40 children, on Aug. 20, 2016. The motion sought a complete investigation into the ISIL network in Turkey in the wake of this deadly attack. The motion has yet to be debated in the plenary in Parliament.

Again, on Oct. 18, 2016, the CHP asked in a motion how ISIL has been able to stage terror acts when the militants were under close surveillance by the government. The main opposition party questioned why most ISIL suspects were quickly released after arrest, allowing them to continue plotting further attacks in Turkey. Two days later, on Oct. 20, 2016, CHP lawmaker Mustafa Sezgin Tanrıkulu and 21 co-signers submitted another motion accusing the government intelligence and law enforcement agencies of failing to prevent a series of terror attacks. It said no restructuring had taken place in these agencies despite their failures and that Parliament should look into these issues to find out what went wrong, suggesting the establishment of an inquiry commission. On Nov. 2, 2016, CHP lawmaker Eren Erdem and 21 co-signers submitted a fresh motion on ISIL asking Parliament to investigate the Salafist ideological base that allows mushrooming ISIL networks in Turkey and find out how radicalization is taking place. All these motions were pushed to the backburner as the AKP controls the agenda in the plenary.

Turkey’s opposition parties appear to have lost their vigor in putting the squeeze on Erdoğan and his government in 2017 regarding ISIL and other jihadist networks. The government’s campaign of intimidation against opposition parties in the aftermath of a failed coup bid that was orchestrated by Erdoğan according to a study by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has clearly worked in scaring lawmakers in Parliament. Under emergency rule, the HDP has faced a serious crackdown with close to a dozen deputies behind bars, including Co-chairs Selahaddin Demirtaş and Figen Yüsekdağ. Main opposition CHP lawmaker Enis Berberoğlu was convicted on false charges of revealing state secrets by allegedly passing documents that showed Erdoğan’s government sending heavy weaponry to jihadists in Syria. The MHP, the fourth largest opposition party by number of seats, made an alliance with Erdoğan and is now fully supporting the government.

Nevertheless, three motions were filed in Parliament with regard to ISIL in 2017. On Jan. 11, 2017 CHP lawmaker Tur Yıldız Biçer and 18 co-signers submitted a motion to set up commission to investigate Turkish suppliers that provided components such as chemical precursors and fertilizers to an ISIL arms factory in Mosul, Iraq. It cited a report by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an organization devoted to identifying and tracking conventional weapons and ammunition in conflicts, which stated “ISIS [another acronym for ISIL] forces source most of the products used to manufacture explosive weapons from Turkey.” The motion is still pending. CHP deputy Veli Ağbaba and 24 co-signers also submitted a similar motion on the CAR report on Jan. 11, 2017. On June 14, 2017, HDP lawmaker Mahmut Toğrul and 20 co-signers asked Parliament to investigate why the government failed to address the grievances of surviving victims of the ISIL attack that targeted a wedding party in Gaziantep.

As a result, it is crystal clear that Erdoğan has no interest whatsoever in tolerating any parliamentary inquiry into ISIL and other jihadist groups in Turkey. That is why he instructed his party to kill any and all motions made in Parliament by opposition parties. This is the main reason why dozens of motions have failed to set up an ad hoc commission to investigate jihadists who were apparently protected by the Erdoğan regime just like they are helped out in the criminal justice system by the government when militants run into trouble with the law.

Since all the levers of power including the judicial, legislative and executive branches are now tightly controlled by Erdoğan and his Islamist regime, there is no possibility of getting to the bottom of the jihadist networks in Turkey nor eradicating the ideological swamp that continues to breed these fanatics. That makes setting up an international commission of inquiry to investigate the Erdoğan government’s links to jihadists all the more necessary and urgent because this is a problem that is not just confined to the borders of Turkey. It has been spilling out all over the world, including in Europe, Asia and Africa.

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Is Erdoğan’s Turkey after nuclear weapons?

Considering the fact Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been emulating the Iranian model for some time, from investing in proxy groups for leverage and regime change to exporting the ruling party’s Islamist ideology overseas, one should not be surprised to find out that a clandestine program to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) including a nuclear device for deterrence is actually in the works.

If it is any indication, the deliberate campaign to push the issue for general acceptance in Turkish society by key people close to Erdoğan must be chilling for Turkey watchers who have grown quite uneasy about the future direction of this strategically located NATO ally country. Hayrettin Karaman, the Turkish president’s chief fatwa (religious edict) giver, provided not only his blessing for the government to acquire WMDs but also encouraged Turkish leadership to do so. Karaman, considered to be the Turkish equivalent of imam Yousef Qardawi — the Egyptian cleric and spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who approves of suicide bombings and armed rebellion in Syria — and a prominent figure among Turkish Islamists, wrote in the Yeni Şafak daily on March 16, 2017 that “we need to consider producing these weapons [WMDs] rather than purchasing them without losing any time and with no regard to words [of caution] and hindrance from the West.”

Erdoğan has often sought this cleric’s help when he wanted to promote an issue for public discussion, providing a religious legitimacy for what he plans to do. In fact, Karaman has issued religious opinions justifying the unprecedented crackdown the government launched against the Gülen movement and other opposition and critical groups. He declared Turks who voted against Erdoğan to be un-Islamic. Karaman was among the early critics of efforts at interfaith dialogue championed by Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, and Erdoğan eventually blurted out that he was of the same opinion, on Nov.17, 2016, during a visit to Pakistan, where he said interfaith dialogue between Islam and Christianity was impossible and ruled out dialogue with the Vatican.

Therefore, whatever Karaman says cannot be brushed aside without considering how much weight it carries in the eyes of Turkey’s Islamist rulers. His narrative has often resulted in policy actions by the Erdoğan government, and one certainly cannot take a chance on the alarming WMD proposal he offered. “Let’s invent [these WMDs] and balance out [the power of the West],” he wrote, stressing that Turkey must acquire lethal weapons that are more powerful than or equal to those of the enemy, which is the West and the non-Muslim world.

The second indication that Turkish leaders may be up to something on WMDs has come from a high-profile Islamist journalist who often accompanied the Turkish president during state visits and traveled with him on the presidential plane. İbrahim Karagül, the editor-in-chief of Yeni Şafak, a mouthpiece rag for Erdoğan, wrote on March 27, 2017, 11 days after Karaman voiced his opinion, that Turkey must take extraordinary measures including acquiring nuclear weapons capability against the Western Crusaders who are waging war on Turkey. He held the view that Turkey must mobilize all Muslim communities and countries that it can enlist as allies and put up a resistance to this onslaught from the Western powers.

In fact, when Şahin Alpay, a veteran author and professor of political science, wrote in the Zaman daily on April 14, 2015 that the Erdoğan government was after nuclear technology to acquire weapons under the guise of obtaining peaceful nuclear energy reactors, it was Karagül who reacted to him first. The government was not pleased with Alpay’s reasonable warning that nuclear power technology could create a headache for Turkey in the future. A year after his article appeared in the newspaper, Zaman, the most highly circulated daily in Turkey, was unlawfully seized by the Erdoğan government. This well-respected 73-year-old man was arrested in July 2016 and has been in jail for a year on trumped-up charges of coup plotting, a crime he has consistently opposed for his entire career. Erdoğan’s office also mobilized its thousands-strong troll army on Twitter to bash him while defending the acquisition of nuclear weapons technology.

The campaign that supports the acquisition of nuclear weapons is still ongoing among Erdoğan proponents. Writing in the pro-Erdoğan Milat daily, columnist Galip İlhaner stated on July 25, 2017 that Turkey must acquire nuclear weapons in cooperation with Pakistan. He posted a message on his Twitter account on July 30 saying that the real reason for the ouster of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over his family’s unexplained wealth was to prevent Pakistan from transferring nuclear weapons to Turkey. Sabri İşbilen, a writer for the Islamist Diriliş Postası daily who has followers in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), wrote on Oct. 27, 2016 that Pakistan, Turkey and Qatar have been working on joint weapons enhancement capabilities including nuclear. Conspiracies like this may sound far-fetched and difficult to prove; yet, there are dozens of government propagandists uttering these narratives on public platforms. Unfortunately, there is certainly a growing constituency in Turkey that is ready to believe these stories.

I’m no expert on the technical aspects of nuclear technology and know little about civilian and military nuclear technology. There have been arguments on both sides of the aisle advocating opposing views when it comes to Turkey’s real ambitions. One position as advocated by Hans Rühle, former head of the planning staff in the German Ministry of Defense, in a National Interest article on Sept. 22, 2015, was that Turkey is positioning itself similarly to Iran in its leveraging of civilian nuclear power for potential nuclear weapons breakout capability. The article created a lot of noise and elicited a response from the Turkish government that rejected it as slander. Others like Philip Baxter, a senior research associate with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, challenged Rühle’s arguments on several points, some technical, that I have no qualifications to question, but they sounded convincing.

But one assertion that was made by Baxter on a security basis begs further questioning. He said: “Turkey’s external security outlook and alliance structure are also dramatically different than that of Iran’s,” stressing that “Turkey is a long-standing member of the NATO alliance. The Article V security guarantee ensures Turkey’s existential security.” Well, that would have been true a couple years ago, but today the Erdoğan government considers the US and other NATO allies to be hostile nations, undermines the US-led anti-ISIL coalition battles in Syria’s north, blocks NATO cooperation with partners such as Austria and has forced German troops to withdraw from Turkish bases after having granted access only a few years ago. Turkey is increasingly becoming an unpredictable and less reliable ally. Erdoğan himself has been busy bullying, bashing and lashing out at NATO allies in his public speeches, fueling an anti-US and anti-NATO frenzy in the 80-million-strong predominantly Muslim nation.

What is more, Turkey is not really forthcoming on the details of the deals it struck with Russia and Japan on building two nuclear power plants in Turkey and provides little clarity on what it really hopes to accomplish. Opposition lawmakers’ questions in Parliament on these deals were either not responded to, in violation of parliamentary by-laws, or were given an answer that lacked substance. Main opposition party Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Aytuğ Atıcı, who posed several questions to the energy minister on deals to build nuclear power plants, believes the Erdoğan government is really going after weapons grade technology. Hayrettin Kılıç, a US-based nuclear physicist who opposed the Turkish government building nuclear power plants, also said he believes the real goal of Turkey is to manufacture nuclear weapons rather than produce electricity.

Whatever the real motivation that drives Erdoğan to build not two but three nuclear power plants with technology transfers and local manufacturing capabilities, there are reasonable grounds to become suspicious of Turkish government behavior under Erdoğan’s leadership. The fact that he brought in his son-in-law Berat Albayrak to be in charge of those nuclear deals suggests that Erdoğan is keen to keep the details of these negotiations close to the chest by having his family members oversee the negotiations.

Turkey is no longer the same country we used to know, and a lot has changed since Erdoğan consolidated his power base and started dismantling democratic institutions. He has built an Islamist dictatorship where the rule of law no longer applies, fundamental rights and freedoms are violated on a large scale and democratic principles such as separation of powers, accountability and checks and balances are no longer respected. Turkey as we know it never ventured into regime change before the Syrian crisis started in 2011, or armed and funded jihadists to destabilize neighboring countries and never engaged in exporting political Islamist ideology to other countries including to Europe and North America. Perhaps a change that we never thought possible in acquiring nuclear weapons in the face of Turkey’s strong commitments to international treaties may also be on the way. It would be wise to be better safe than sorry by holding Erdoğan’s Turkey up to closer scrutiny.

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Erdoğan’s campaign for Turkey’s al-Qaeda: Case of Mullah Muhammed

The mindset of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not so different than that of al-Qaeda when it comes to defending distorted Islamic views to advance his political goals. This is perhaps best illustrated with the case of radical imam Mehmet Doğan (aka Mullah Muhammed), who openly declared his admiration for Osama bin Laden and called for an armed jihad in Turkey. Erdoğan vigorously defended this indicted cleric, helped him get acquitted with his loyalist judges and prosecutors when he was arrested and tried, jailed journalists who criticized his radical group and even launched a botched civil suit in the US against Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen for defaming this fanatic.

The question is why Erdoğan, a top Islamist politician in Turkey, has gone to such extreme measures to defend this radical hate preacher and his thuggish group called Tahşiyeciler in Turkish. The answer lies in the shared values and common apocalyptic worldview Erdoğan holds together with these fanatics when it comes to hating non-Muslims and despising Muslims who try to reach out to other faiths as part of attempts at interreligious dialogue around the globe. Another reason would be that Erdoğan tapped this group as a recruitment ground to send militants to fight his proxy battles in Syria, Iraq and other places. Judging from the group’s active cells in Germany and France, perhaps Erdoğan also hopes to use them as leverage in his spoiler card game against EU member states.

Although intelligence, military and law enforcement agencies flagged the group in early 2000 as a dangerous al-Qaeda-supportive group, Turkey learned about Doğan and Tahşiyeciler for the first time on Jan. 22, 2010, when police raided the homes and offices of dozens of people across Turkey as part of an anti-al-Qaeda sweep. 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.

The probe revealed that the terrorist group had sent close to 100 people to Afghanistan for arms training. In seized taped recordings, Doğan was heard calling for violent jihad: “I’m telling you to take up your guns and kill them.” He also asked his followers to build bombs and mortars in their homes, urged the decapitating of Americans, claiming that the religion allows such practices. “If the sword is not used, then this is not Islam,” he stated. According to Doğan, all Muslims were obligated to respond to then-al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s armed fight.

The Erdoğan government helped Doğan and his men avoid punishment under the law when they were indicted, turned the case upside down, prevented original trials from proceeding in appeals and eventually succeeded in acquitting them all in 2015. That was not the end of the story, however. To take revenge on al-Qaeda watchers and punish investigators as part of a vendetta, the Erdoğan government invited Doğan and his men in 2014 to file criminal complaints against police, prosecutors and judges who investigated the group as well as journalists and Muslim scholars like Gülen who criticized this al-Qaeda-linked group. Erdoğan orchestrated the building of a frivolous case in Turkey on the basis of these complaints and arrested prosecutors, judges and police chiefs who had investigated Tahşiyeciler as part of their jobs. The Turkish president even hired controversial lawyer and shadowy figure Robert Amsterdam to file a civil suit against Gülen in a US court based on complaints from Doğan and his fanatics. The case was dismissed by the US judge.

Portraying Tahşiyeciler as a victimized group, Erdoğan launched a public campaign on behalf of Mullah Muhammed, saying in a speech he delivered on Dec. 15, 2014 that Mullah Muhammed was arrested unjustly, served 17 years in jail and lost 90 percent of his sight in both eyes. Well, Doğan served only 17 months, and his eyes had perfect vision. He was reading from the document just fine when he declared his love affair with Osama bin Laden during a live TV interview on CNN Türk with Akif Beki, former spokesman for Erdoğan. Erdoğan’s remarks came a day after police raided Turkey’s largest-circulated paper, Zaman, and detained its editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı, and arrested top manager of the Samanyolu TV network Hidayet Karaca. Erdoğan declared that those who target Mullah Muhammed would pay a price as the government would act upon complaints from the Tahşiyeciler group. Dumanlı fled Turkey to live in self-exile in the US to avoid jail on trumped-up charges, while Karaca has been locked up in a Turkish prison since then without even a conviction.

What is more, Erdoğan ordered his media machine to run a favorable campaign for the group to win the hearts and minds of the Turkish people for the al-Qaeda-affiliated fanatics. Daily Sabah, an English-language daily that is owned by the Erdoğan family, ran stories to present Mullah Muhammed as a saint. Others like journalist Ruşen Çakır scrambled to defend Tahşiyeciler in a frantic effort to prove that the group had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. Mustafa Kaplan (born in 1947), a senior figure believed to be the successor to Mullah in the Tahşiyeciler group and in charge of foreign operations, has been parading on networks including AHaber, a news channel also owned by the Erdoğan family, and he was provided a platform to freely promote his radical views.

Ibrahim Kalın, Erdoğan’s spokesperson, prepared an information file in English exonerating Tahşiyeciler as a “religious community,” and Turkish embassies are instructed to defend the group with the talking points Kalın helped craft in the document. In a leaked email sent to Erdoğan’s son Bilal, daughters Esra and Sümeyye and son-in-law Berat Albayrak on Jan. 7, 2017, Kalın stated that Erdoğan personally handed over the document to ThorbjørnJagland, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe during a meeting. The EU minister sent the file to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and President of the European Council Donald Tusk. US congressmen and EU parliamentarians were also provided a copy.

Let’s look at where Kaplan stands from his own words and how dangerous Turkey has become under Erdoğan, who rushed to defend the group in Turkey and abroad. According to digital evidence seized in suspect Mehmet Sururi Kale’s home, several DVDs that had Kaplan’s recorded sermons from 2008 were found and logged in the evidentiary case file. In a DVD tagged as No.1 that compiles some of the speeches he delivered including ones in Germany, Kaplan was heard hailing fighters who leave their parents to fight in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Bosnia. He describes them as the real men who are fighting in these places and encourages Turks to go and join the fight rather than staying behind like a woman.

He claims jihadists who emerged in Chechnya, China’s Xinxiang region and Afghanistan are harbingers of Mahdi,a messianic deliverer prophesiedby the Islamic Prophet. He anticipates that those fighters would one day come to Turkey to turn it into an Islamic state. Mahdi’s army would crush India and China first before setting its sights on Europe, according to Kaplan, who believed that a Muslim army with a black flag would emerge in Central Asia and establish an Islamic state. He lamented that Muslims established an Islamic state in Afghanistan but that the Americans destroyed it. “No worries,” he quickly added, stressing that now fighters will take over the whole world, not just Afghanistan, kill Jews and liberate Palestinian lands including Jerusalem.

Kaplan does not hide his passion for al-Qaeda, saying that the whole world is terrified of al-Qaeda even though the terror group has limited resources and capabilities. According to transcripts of his taped speeches, he stated that the whole world heard their voices when the call to prayer was sounded from the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He ridicules US troops for being afraid of teenagers in Iraq and says how the US troops are panicked by Muslim boys, stressing that only death would scare US soldiers. He brands the US as Dajjal, an evil figure in Islamic literature who is also called the the anti-Christ. Kaplan makes a point that Muslims can neither have respect for Christians and Jews nor be befriended by them as they are infidels and they should be killed wherever they are found.

According to the records, Kaplan was heard saying how drug, tobacco and alcohol-addicted Muslim boys would become heroes by leading the jihadist fight. He tells the tale of a drug-addicted Turkish boy from Istanbul’s Sefaköy district who went to Afghanistan, was trained in arms and displayed heroic efforts afterwards. He often quotes his master Doğan as saying that the number one job for Muslims is to establish an Islamic state based on theology. He went as far as claiming that Muslims can only save themselves by following the lead of Mullah Muhammed.

Some of the conversations of Kaplan in the seized DVDs apparently took place in Germany. As Kaplan talks to his comrades, he receives a phone call during which he tells the person on the other end that he is still in Germany. He says he would be in Bonn soon to give some talk. Ahlen, Dortmund and Anderten were mentioned in the phone conversation. He spits out his hatred for Germany in these sermons he had given during a tour of German cities. For example, Kaplan said Germany would face the wrath of Muslims when it starts putting pressure on Turks and Muslims living in Germany. He promised that the Germans would soon regret sending troops to Afghanistan since fighters would come to Germany to punish them.

Apparently aimed at radicalizing Turks in Germany, Kaplan mentions that Turks are hostages and prisoners in Germany because they abandoned Islamic teachings. In the same speech, he also says American soldiers have panic attacks when they see a 15-year-old Muslim boy in the streets of Iraq because young boys strap bombs to their bodies and blow themselves up, instilling fear in the hearts of infidels. He says a believer is not afraid of anybody and that killing himself in a suicide bombing is better than living as prisoners. He promises that heaven is waiting for those who martyr themselves, just like al-Qaeda’s twisted ideology. He makes a prediction that Muslims who are loathed today will soon take over Germany and France if they are really committed to their faith and act in line with God’s wishes. He says Berlin and New York will be battleground cities for violent clashes. At the end of this speech, he says he will be in Bonn to give further lectures.

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization’s (MİT) intel note on Tahşiyeciler dated March 5, 2009 profiled Mullah Muhammed as a man who is fully supportive of al-Qaeda, trying to combine all Madrasah schools in Turkey to serve al-Qaeda ideology. It pointed out that Mullah Muhammed believes Turkey would be saved by an Islamic army led by al-Qaeda. The note also reveals Doğan’s activities abroad, listing Munich, Berlin and Koln as cities where Tahşiyeciler has been active. In France, the al-Qaeda-linked group has limited activities according to MİT. It has also cells in the Saudi Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina. It confirmed other intelligence gathered by the police in Erzincan on Dec. 19, 2008 and the National Police Intelligence Bureau on April 29, 2009.

Interestingly enough, MİT, which had profiled the group as a dangerous, al-Qaeda-supportive jihadist group in 2009, suddenly appeared to have a change of heart after May 2010, when Erdoğan appointed Hakan Fidan, an Islamist figure, to lead the intelligence agency. It was at exactly this time that Doğan and other figures in Tahşiyeciler were released while the trial was still ongoing. When the Syrian crisis started in 2011, jihadists had become useful pawns in Erdoğan’s game of proxy battles to replace Bashar al-Assad with an Islamist ruler. MİT started trafficking Turkish and foreign fighters to Syria, providing them arms and logistical supplies and facilitating their travel with passports and ID documents. Mullah Muhammed, of Kurdish descent, came in handy in raising new recruits for jihadist groups. Fidan is now using radical networks including Tahşiyeciler abroad to stir up trouble for Turkey’s allies and partners, especially in Germany, where Tahşiyeciler and other radical Turkish groups have active cells.

The case of Mullah Muhammed perfectly illustrates the dangerous mindset that rules today’s Turkey, an 80-million-strong predominantly Sunni nation with some 5 million expatriates in other countries, mainly in Europe. Turkish intelligence MİT under Fidan is a hostile agency and the Erdoğan-led Turkey has become a destabilizing factor for allies and partners. The remarks on July 27, 2017 by Brett McGurk, the US envoyfor the global coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who alluded to Turkey’s role in facilitating the transfer of fighters and arms for al-Qaeda in Syria’s Idlib province, show Turkey’s allies have grown uneasy about the Erdoğan regime’s clandestine business with radical groups.

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