A Turkish Islamist militant who appeared in a video brandishing a decapitated head turned out to be an official of the youth branch of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) before joining the jihadist cause in Syria.
Emrah Çelik (born April 5, 1987), a member of the AKP youth branch in the Kapaklı district of northwestern Tekirdağ province, was seen posing in both a video and still shots while holding a severed head in his hand. The recording shows him saying that the victory belongs to Islamist jihadists and that whoever takes on Islam’s soldiers would share the same fate as the severed head, which he said belonged to a soldier in the Syrian regime forces. In the end he says victory belongs to Islam while raising a single index finger, similar to a gesture used by militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Çelik served as the deputy chairman of the AKP youth branch in a district located on the European side of Turkey before joining jihadist groups fighting in the Turkmen area of northern Syria, on October 10, 2015. He is originally from the eastern province Erzincan but maintains a residence in Tekirdağ. Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor’s Office records show he is still a member of the AKP.
According to his own statement Çelik served in the 2nd Coastal Division stationed in the Turkmen mountains and served under the command of Bashar Molla. The division is the main Turkmen rebel group operating in the Latakia Governorate and gained notoriety when they killed a Russian SU-24 fighter jet pilot who was ejected from his aircraft when it was shot down by Turkey on the Syrian border on November 24, 2015. In his statement Çelik said two choppers were deployed by Russia within 10 minutes of the downing of the plane to rescue the pilots but that it was too late as the division had already captured them.
It appears he had been traveling back and forth to Syria with no problems at the border as the Turkmen division was armed, trained and supported by Turkey. During one of his visits to Turkey he gave an interview to a local daily in his hometown, on November 18, 2018, and described Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a leader who fights for the Islamic cause. “Whoever is a friend to our President Erdoğan is a friend of ours, and whoever is an enemy of his is also enemy of ours,” he said, in an oblique reference to his hostility towards the Gülen movement, an outspoken critic of the Erdoğan regime due to its aiding and arming jihadist groups in Syria. “We are ready to die for the cause of our president,” Çelik said, adding that he believed he had been fighting in Syria against all infidel states.
Çelik was photographed posing next to Turkey’s interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, as well as Parliament Speaker Mustafa Şentop. When the pictures were circulated on social media, he admitted that he was the man in the photo posing with Soylu and was very proud of it. In some pictures Çelik was also seen making the Rabia sign, a campaign symbol for President Erdoğan, who borrowed the gesture from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. He was claimed to be affiliated with the al-Nusra Front, although that claim was never verified. He and his comrades joined the Turkish military’s offensive in Syria along with Free Syrian Army fighters.
In Syria he was embedded with a unit led by another Turkish militant, Alparslan Çelik, the alleged killer of one of the pilots of the downed Russian SU-24 jet who died in machine gun fire from the ground after ejecting from the plane. Alparslan defended the murder of the pilot in a video, saying he had dropped bombs on Turkmens and that retaliation was the right thing to do. Alparslan was charged with firearms violations in a gang-related crime in Turkey and sentenced to five years in May 2017. His case is still pending on appeal.