After the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011 during the Arab revolutions, a special desk was set up in Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) for the purpose of toppling Bashar al-Assad and replacing his regime with an Islamist government under the secret orders of then-Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
According to a confidential source who spoke to Nordic Monitor on condition of anonymity, one of the first things MIT did was to recall all former police officers, ex-military members and special operations figures who had trouble with the law in the past and tasked them with the new “patriotic” duty of training, arming and organizing jihadist groups, often among al-Qaeda affiliates and sometimes with elements from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The source, who served as a senior figure in Turkey’s security establishment for years, is familiar with the details of the operation that helped convicted felons and suspects who were facing criminal charges to go free. “Dozens of ex-military guys were released in a systematic and deliberate campaign,” the source told Nordic Monitor, while his office was monitoring radical terrorist groups with whom the intelligence agency operatives had been cooperating. The nation’s spy agency has been undermining the work of law enforcement in Turkey, where jihadist groups were empowered and unleashed as well as on the battleground in Syria.
One of the ex-military people the source identified was Nuri Gökhan Bozkır, a major in special operations who had been dishonorably discharged for his involvement with mafia gangs that were embedded in the Turkish security services. Bozkır worked for Combat Search and Rescue (MAK), an elite force attached to the Special Forces Command (ÖKK) in the Turkish military.
He was convicted in a military court and sentenced to six years in a 2007 case known the “Sauna Gang,” which involved bureaucrats and politicians who were being blackmailed. He was tried in military court for stealing classified documents from a base. He had also been tried in a civilian criminal court but was acquitted on Nov. 14, 2016 after the Erdoğan government intervened in the case and rewarded Bozkır for doing the dirty bidding of the intelligence agency.
The account provided by a source to Nordic Monitor was also corroborated with a 2015 investigation case that involved a shipment of detonating cords for explosives to ISIL under the watch of the Turkish intelligence agency. The case was exposed when police seized over six tons of detonating cords filled with pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), a highly explosive material used for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by jihadists, when they intercepted a long-haul truck in Şanlıurfa’s Akçakale district on Sept. 8, 2015. Bozkır, who was a partner in arms trading company DNS Defense, based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and Mehmet Oktar, a major in the infantry, were involved in the shipment.
The unlicensed and unauthorized shipment was concealed behind sacks of onions in the truck, which was accompanied by escort cars. An indictment was filed for nine suspects including the driver of the truck, Yalçın Kaya, who told the court that the organizers of the shipment assured him the Turkish state sanctioned the shipment and that there was nothing to worry about when he embarked on the journey.
The key suspects in the case all have backgrounds in the police or the military. The shipment of the strictly regulated explosive detonators, which require advance notice to authorities by licensed dealers and registration with law enforcement at both the departure and arrival points, appears to have been one of many destined not only for ISIL but for other jihadist groups fighting in Syria.
The driver Kaya told the police during the interrogation and hearing in court that one of the company officials during the loading of the explosive materials on the truck in Afyonkarahisar introduced himself as an intelligence officer and told him the shipment was destined for ISIL as part of a job approved by the government. The indictment accepted by the court on Oct. 26, 2017 stated that the driver knew the shipment was organized by Ahmet İzzet Sarıtaş, another suspect in the case, and that it was going to ISIL.
The shipment originated from a depot located in the village of Taşlıburun in the western province of Afyonkarahisar, and the detonating cords acquired from two suppliers in Turkey were loaded on the truck at a roadside rendezvous point in the Dinar district of Afyonkarahisar on Sept. 7, 2015. The 6.4 tons of detonating cords (some 260,000 meters in length) were loaded on a tractor-trailer with license plate number 32DG475. The driver testified that he asked for the authorization papers to transport the detonating cords and that suspect Bülent Erol told him he had secured them from a gendarmerie station. The driver also added that they were able to easily pass through police checkpoints until Şanlıurfa with the escort cars, further bolstering the view that the shipment was approved by the government.
He said he heard other suspects talking about making shipments in small batches in order to not attract attention in the border provinces. The bill of lading showed the detonating cords belonged to a company called Trend Limited, whose owner, Mesut Doğanay, is a retired police officer who worked at the arms and explosives unit in the Denizli Police Department. Doğanay purchased the firm in 2014 and for a while listed his wife as the owner. The company was also providing explosives to mining operations in the region, especially quarries. When the gendarmerie investigated the depot in Taşlıburun, it found there was a shortage of 20 tons of explosives when compared to company records for incoming and outgoing shipments.
The laws regulating the explosives market in Turkey requires that all purchases and sales by licensed companies be registered and that shipments be authorized and the relevant authorities informed. Given that 5.5 tons were seized in Akçakale, 13.6 tons of explosives remain unaccounted for. The Dazkırı Public Prosecutor’s Office, whose jurisdiction includes the area where the depot is located, launched a probe in October 2015 for the missing batch of detonating cords. Police detained 12 people who worked at depots in Eskişehir and Afyonkarahisar and released nine of them shortly afterwards. The owner, Doğanay, was later arrested, and but the public prosecutor asked the court at a hearing on Nov. 21, 2017 to release him pending charges. The judge denied the request and he remained imprisoned in Antalya.
In his testimony to the Denizli 3rd High Criminal Court in a separate hearing on July 17, 2017, Doğanay revealed that hours before the shipment was loaded on the truck, two people who identified themselves as MİT agents and showed their IDs came to his office and told him the purchase was being done on behalf of the government and that it was intended to support Turkmens in Syria.
Brothers Doğan Güneş and Gökhan Güneş, who were driving the escort cars that accompanied the truck during the transport, testified that they were brought in to join the operation by a man identified as Ahmet Yasin Güneş, a lieutenant in the Turkish Armed Forces. In a petition filed with the Şanlıurfa 2nd High Criminal Court, Doğan revealed that 1st Lt. Ahmet Yasin actually worked for MİT although his position was listed as being with the military. He said he became acquainted with the lieutenant in Ankara in 2014 and as the friendship developed, the lieutenant let him in on his secret that he actually worked for state intelligence agency MIT.
Doğan also recalled how he witnessed that the Turkish intelligence agency was moving Stinger missiles from a safe house in the Turkish capital of Ankara. He wrote that Lt. Yasin took him to a luxury villa next to the headquarters of police special operations in Ankara’s Gölbasi district. He said he met three men while there, identifying only two by name, Maj. Nuri Gökhan Bozkır and Cem Şahin, who worked at military special operations. While he was there, a car arrived with four people, who brought two Stingers down that were stored in the attic of the villa. Among the four, he identified Murat Çelik, who worked at the Ankara Police Department, and Fehmi (no last name), who was assigned to a police intelligence unit.
Ahmet Yasin Güneş, a suspect in this ISIL case, also turned up in several high-profile criminal cases as a secret government witness code-named “Alparslan,” whose false testimony created a pretext for the Erdoğan government to remove top generals who had exposed the Turkish government’s illegal shipments to jihadists. It is clear that he was tasked by intelligence to enlist as a witness to hush up ISIL investigations in the judiciary when he himself was a suspect in another case.
There were published reports suggesting that Afyonkarahisar Governor Hakan Yusuf Güner closely followed the case and even helped tamper with original records to prevent the government from being blamed. This makes sense given the fact that the government brought criminal charges against a reporter who published the story about MİT’s involvement with the shipment according to the account provided by suspect Doğan Güneş in court.
In October 2016 prosecutor Murat İnam in İstanbul filed a case against Cumhuriyet reporter Canan Coşkun over her story on MİT links to the detonating cords and charged her with insulting the Turkish nation, the state and its organs under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The offense, very much abused to silence critical voices in Turkey, required authorization by the government to proceed, which was given by the Justice Ministry on Sept. 28, 2016. The Istanbul court sentenced her to 10 months in prison on defamation charges but decided to postpone the announcement of the ruling, effectively keeping her from serving jail time.
While trying to intimidate critical journalists into not writing about the story by means of threats and the abuse of criminal prosecution, the Turkish intelligence agency also scrambled to manipulate the case with false attributions. Apparently embarrassed by the botched shipment, MİT planted a story in the pro-Erdoğan Islamist Akit daily on Sept. 10, 2015, a day after the shipment was seized in the border province. The fake story claimed that the seized detonating cords were destined for the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
MİT later tried to associate the case with the Gülen movement by attempting to link the case to a separate trial in Denizli province that is seen as political witch-hunt conducted by Erdoğan against followers of his main critic, Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the US. The agency even tried to spin a conspiracy theory that the interception was a deliberate attempt to embarrass the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
Despite efforts to find scapegoats and manipulate facts, the evidence points in one direction only, which is that the shipments of detonating cords to ISIL and other jihadist groups were a secret operation run by the Turkish intelligence agency. No wonder the similar batches of detonating cords that were seized from ISIL in Syria were traced back to Turkish firms run and operated by suspects linked to MIT.
Another case that adds further evidence to the claims that the Turkish intelligence agency worked with ex-military and former police officers came from the province of Konya, a conservative bastion and a stronghold of Erdoğan’s AKP. The case revealed that the ISIL emir in the province was a man identified only by the initials B.S., a former special operations police office officer. He was detained and formally arrested early in January 2019 after a suspect in the case, Mehmet Akif Kök, agreed to testify for a lesser sentence. Kök, accused of being an ISIL recruiter, was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison on Nov. 23, 2018 but was released after his testimony. Other suspects including Burhan Yamak, Yakup Memi, Ramazan Aras, İlhan Alparslan, Muhammed Ali Danışman and Fahri Karahan received various sentences ranging from seven to nine years.
The case was launched when the police raided an ISIL safe house in the Meram district of Konya province on July 15, 2017. During the clashes Veysel Seçmen (aka Ebumuaz), Furkan Tulay (aka Seyfulislam), Abdulbaki Yorgun (aka Ebuderda), Mehmet Enes Doğan (aka Enes) and Müslüm Ceylan (Ebu Muhammed) were killed and four police officers were injured. The police seized five AK-47s, a suicide bomb vest with four kilos of TNT, one handgun and 1,500 bullets.
It appears the spy agency has been running off-the-book black ops with jihadist groups, but at times their clandestine operations were interrupted when law enforcement agencies intercepted illegal shipments, promoting the launch of legal cases, only to be hushed up or contained by the Erdoğan government. It is impossible to conduct such large-scale operations without the approval of the executive branch, and Erdoğan simply does not seem to care whether he violates dozens of national or international laws in doing so.