Militants of a Turkish al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group have been operating under the auspices of the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, arming themselves for what they claim to be a defensive move to protect Turkey from the attack of Western Christian crusaders, Jews and Russians.
Nordic Monitor has studied one such militant who has been used by the AKP to attack journalists and critics and investigated his profile in depth to uncover a worrying pattern of radicalization among AKP supporters. The trend is not unique, and the case is definitely not an isolated one. His name is Murat Özdemir, and he is one of too many. Let’s recall the survey that MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center (MetroPOLL) did in 2015 and how it found that about 20 percent of Turkish people endorsed the use of violence on behalf of Islam in specified cases. That amounted to some 15 million people who were sympathetic to what al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have done in Syria, Iraq and other places. Incidentally, there is no reason to believe that figure has come down; in fact I believe it has most likely increased.
Özdemir, a militant figure who had worked for the AKP-run Küçükçekmece Municipality in Istanbul between 2010 and 2014, represents a profile that was factored in to the MetroPoll survey. He is a cab driver by trade and has been an active member of the AKP since 2002. He often shows up at high-profile AKP events and attends meetings where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a keynote speaker. He has pictures of himself standing next to senior leaders of the party and has been on the campaign trail with AKP candidates during elections and has even served as an official at polling stations.
Özdemir brags about how he armed himself to defend Erdoğan, advocates jihadist views, threatens to execute government critics and even rape female victims of the Erdoğan regime. He was among the leaders of some 150 people who attacked the Hürriyet daily headquarters with stones in September 2015. The group attempted to break in to the building after a protest called by pro-government circles over the daily’s coverage of an Erdoğan speech. Then-AKP youth branch head and AKP İstanbul deputy Abdurrahim Boynukalın was also among the leaders of the protest group. Several days after the attack, Özdemir posted a message on FaceBook threatening a CNN Türk debate program presenter, female journalist Şirin Payzın, with rape.
Özdemir has been associated with radical imam Mehmet Doğan (aka Mullah Muhammed), who openly declared his admiration for Osama bin Laden and called for armed jihad in Turkey. Doğan is the leader of a radical Turkish group called Tahşiyeciler, which was flagged as a security threat by the military and law enforcement agencies in the early 2000s. It has been monitored since then and faced a crackdown in January 2010 in what authorities designated an al-Qaeda sweep. Doğan and his associates were saved by Erdoğan in 2014 when the government intervened in the case.
“I’m telling you to take up your guns and kill them,” Mullah Muhammed was recorded as saying. He asked his followers to build bombs and mortars in their homes, urged the decapitation of Americans, claiming that the religion allowed 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.
Özdemir and his late father’s ties to the group go back decades, when Mustafa Kaplan, the number two in the Tahşiyeciler group, even visited their homes in the village of Kastamonu some 20 years ago. On his FaceBook account Özdemir shared messages with the 71-year-old Kaplan and posted photos showing him attending group meetings. He posed before a stand of the Tahşiyeciler group’s Semende bookstore and shared pictures that show him reading their books.
Kaplan is the key operative in this radical group, which has set up cells in France and Germany. Audio recordings of Kaplan’s meetings in Europe show how dangerous the group is. He hails foreign fighters going to Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Bosnia for jihadist causes and describes the jihadists who emerged in Chechnya, China’s Xinxiang region and Afghanistan as harbingers of Mahdi, a messianic deliverer prophesied by the Islamic Prophet. He anticipates that those fighters will one day come to Turkey to turn it into an Islamic state. Mahdi’s army will crush India and China first before setting its sights on Europe, according to Kaplan, who believes that a Muslim army with a black flag will emerge in Central Asia and establish an Islamic state.
Kaplan does not hide his passion for al-Qaeda, saying that the entire world is terrified of al-Qaeda even though the terrorist group has limited resources and capabilities. According to transcripts of his taped speeches, he states 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 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 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 so far as to claim that Muslims can only save themselves by following the lead of Mullah Muhammed.
He says a believer is not afraid of anybody and that killing oneself in a suicide bombing is better than living as a prisoner. 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.
The evidence shows Özdemir is also linked to senior AKP figure Metin Külünk, a close Erdoğan confidante who was involved with the Islamist Akincilar (Raiders) group in the late 1970s and early ’80s. According to court documents from those years from an investigation into Akıncılar, Külünk was operating in the third cell of the armed unit of the Raiders and responsible for guns and armed operations. Külünk was one of the key operatives who provided money to a right-wing gang called Osmanen Germania in Germany to purchase weapons, organize protests and target critics of the Turkish leader. He was also involved in supporting the Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD) in Europe.
Among Özdemir’s photos are ones that show him standing next to Bilal Erdoğan, Turkish President Erdoğan’s son, and Hamza Dağ, deputy chairman of the AKP responsible for research and development. He was seen hugging Mustafa Şentop, the senior leader of the AKP and currently deputy parliament speaker. He was photographed standing next to Nureddin Nebati, a former lawmaker who is now deputy minister of Turkey’s Finance and Treasury Ministry, which is headed by Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law. Nebati is in charge of the Hamas portfolio in the Erdoğan government. Cuma İçten, a former member of parliament from the AKP, known as a smuggler and gun runner in the southeastern part of Turkey, and Mehmet Metiner, also a former AKP lawmaker and radical Islamist figure, both posed with Özdemir.
In a message posted on Facebook next to the photo of female Air Force pilot Lt. Kerime Yıldırım, who was alleged to have been involved in a July 2016 coup attempt, he wrote that this woman should be raped repeatedly as if she were breeding stock to illustrate how a patriotic generation can be raised. Yıldırım piloted a chopper during the failed coup attempt and transported commanders and in fact managed to rescue troops from the Bosporus Bridge, where Erdoğan’s jihadist friends beheaded and killed unarmed cadets who were brought to the bridge for a drill.
This violent jihadist mindset has been nurtured by the AKP government for years, and many people like Özdemir have been groomed under the auspices of the party without being held accountable for any of their actions.