A complaint filed from prison by an al-Qaeda inmate and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) suspect who is claimed to be related to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan triggered a series of false criminal investigations into all officers who were involved in the successful prosecution of him and his associates almost a decade earlier.
Yavuz Kara, born January 1, 1975 in the Central Anatolian province of Aksaray, was convicted of attempted robbery and membership in a terrorist group when he and his accomplices stole a Coca Cola truck to loot its cargo and tried tried to rob a post office in Istanbul to raise funds to finance al-Qaeda operations in 2009. His wife, Melek Kara, an ISIL suspect according to the 2016 indictment, is from the same hometown as Erdoğan and is alleged to be a relative of the Turkish president.
The 2009 robbery attempt did not go as Kara and his al-Qaeda associates planned and resulted in a firefight between police and the militants in which one of the militants was killed. Kara fled to avoid a prison sentence handed down after the trial and went to Syria with his wife to join ISIL. He and his wife were caught attempting to get back into Turkey illegally, and both were later indicted on ISIL charges in 2016.
He started sending letters to authorities from his maximum security prison claiming that he was framed back in 2009 and that all the police officers who were involved in the investigation were members of the Gülen movement, a civic group highly critical of Erdoğan that became the target of a witch hunt in Turkey after the Turkish president, his family members and business and political associates were incriminated in December 2013 corruption investigations. Erdoğan branded the investigations as a judicial coup, tried to frame the overwhelming evidence in the files as false and orchestrated the removal of police chiefs, prosecutors and judges who were involved in the legal process against the suspects. Many of the investigators were later jailed on orders from Erdogan. State lender Halkbank was at the center of a bribery scheme that enabled Iranian nationals to bypass US sanctions on Iran using Turkish financial institutions.
Secret instructions from Kayhan Ay, head of the counterterrorism unit in Istanbul, ordering an investigation into all police officers who were involved in going after a deadly al-Qaeda cell:kara3_redacted
Using political cover from Erdoğan in pursuing investigators who did their job under the law, al-Qaeda convict Kara tried to smear the police chiefs with accusations that they had ulterior motives, hoping for his release. Despite hard evidence in the 2009 case such as unlicensed guns, ammunition, al-Qaeda materials and witness and suspect statements that incriminated him in the foiled robbery attempt, Kara argued in his letters that all of it was irrelevant. He maintained that he was targeted because his wife had blood ties to Erdoğan and was from the same village. Astonishingly, partisan prosecutors took his claims seriously and launched criminal proceedings against all 25 police officers who were involved in investigating Kara’s al-Qaeda activities.
A cache of court documents and secret files reviewed by Nordic Monitor reveals that Kara’s allegations had no merit, yet a witch hunt was initiated against investigators who cracked down on the al-Qaeda cell in Istanbul. Rather, the 2009 indictment shows that the evidence against him was overwhelming and grounded in fact. Moreover, his track record in both al-Qaeda and ISIL offers proof that he was a radical militant involved in armed jihadist activities.
The indictment filed against him listed a grand theft auto incident on December 3, 2008 when Kara and other al-Qaeda cell members decided to steal a Coca Cola truck to raise funds for their operations and earn some personal income. Kara drove the car carrying passengers identified as Nedim Yıldız, Remzi Düzgün, Orhan Zengin, Yıldırım Ataş, Adem Kömür and Mehmet Ali Tırak to the crime scene in Kocaeli, near Istanbul. According to suspect statements, Kara convinced the group to commit the theft by saying that Coca Cola belonged to infidels and as such merchandise belonging to the company could be stolen according to religious edicts. Ataş, who was the leader of this al-Qaeda cell in Istanbul’s Sultanbeyi district, sold the stolen goods on the black market and raised 14,400 Turkish lira for the cell.
Later, Ataş also directed the group to rob a government post office branch in the Fatih neighborhood on January 29, 2009. The group, composed of Zengin, Ataş, Tırak and Kömür, enlisted new accomplices Murat Çakar, Adem Yüzbaşı and Hüseyin Ağaç for the heist. They stole a Hyndai H-100 van on January 25, 2009 to use in the robbery. On the morning of January 29, they met at a carpet cleaning shop to prepare for the robbery with guns and masks. One-fifth of the money would be sent to the Chechens, they agreed.
The conviction of al-Qaeda suspects by an Istanbul high criminal court:kara6_redacted
Three of them — Tırak, Zengin and Ataş — were the point men with guns sitting in the back of the stolen vehicle, Yüzbaşı was the driver. Kömür and Ağaç were the scouts. However, things did not go as planned, and a shootout erupted in the post office. Police had already picked up chatter about a robbery plan for one of the four post offices in the neighborhood. They did not know which one the terrorists would hit and therefore took security measures at all of them. Plainclothes policemen were ready to confront the would-be robbers, and a shootout ensued when the gunmen refused to lay down their weapons and started firing. Zengin was killed and Ataş was injured.
During the execution of search and seizure warrants, police found two guns, six rocket heads, two pellet guns and bullets of various caliber. Wiretapped conversations revealed Kara was also involved in the planning of the robbery although he did not play a part in the attempt itself. Police also found a number of CDs that included materials on jihad, videos about armed attacks on various targets, Osama bin Ladin videos, lectures by Halis Bayancuk, also known as Abu Hanzala, a chief Turkish jihadist cleric who was previously charged with affiliation with the al-Qaeda terrorist group and is currently standing trial on ISIL membership charges.
Kara was detained by the police in 2007 when counterterrorism teams raided an Internet cafe owned by Hacı Şahin and several al-Qaeda suspects were arrested. Kara was released due to a lack of evidence. But the 2009 incident landed him in hot water when investigators found hard evidence linking him to the al-Qaeda cell. He and others in the cell were indicted on April 16, 2009 on multiple charges that included breaking the anti-terrorism law, theft, firearms violations and attempted armed robbery.
Kara was tried by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, and a panel of three judges convicted and sentenced him to five years in prison on December 12, 2013 for committing a crime on behalf of al-Qaeda. He was also sentenced to seven years, six months for stealing the Coca Cola truck.
Kara’s associates received various sentences from the court. Some of the men in this al-Qaeda cell had faced legal action on terrorism charges in the past. For example, Ağaç went to Syria in 2006, and Syrian authorities deported him to Turkey two months later, saying that he was suspected to have been affiliated with al-Qaeda. The Adana 7th High Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him on February 4, 2008. He was arrested and jailed pending trial on June 22, 2008. He was released on December 26, 2008 but was convicted and sentenced to six years, three months for al-Qaeda membership on on December 12, 2013.
Tırak also had a record before the botched robbery. He was accused of stealing goods to raise funds for al-Qaeda in 2007 and detained by the police. He was also charged with smuggling drugs into the prison. Another suspect, Kömür, testified that he went to Iran in 2006 to study religion in Mashad and returned to Gaziantep after six or seven months of study.
After Kara was released pending appeal at the Supreme Court of Appeals, he fled to Syria, where he stayed in an area he said was controlled by regime opponents. Later he said he moved to an ISIL-controlled region. According to his account, he was involved in the used car business but confronted problems and was jailed several times for smoking by ISIL administration and attempting to flee. He eventually managed to get out and returned to Turkey 10 months later.
The indictment of Kara and others on ISIL charges:kara7_redacted
His story was not found convincing by investigators. An indictment filed with a court in Kilis for jihadist activities in Syria tells a different story from the one he was telling. According to indictment file No. 2016/34 in Kilis, Kara and four other suspects – Derviş Akbulut, Melek Kara, Gül Keskin and Dilek Akbulut – attempted to cross into Turkey illegally on January 21, 2016. The soldiers at a border garrison in Alsancak had to fire into the air to make them stop. They were detained but let go. On January 26 they were indicted on charges of membership in ISIL and traveling to Syria to participate in armed jihadist activities. The case is still pending.
Kara’s original conviction for the 2009 attempted robbery and grand theft auto was upheld by the ninth chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals on July 7, 2014.
The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of al-Qaede suspect Yavuz Kara:kara8_redacted
From his prison cell, Kara started writing letters to courts Kilis and Gaziantep in mid-2016 as well as the Prime Ministry’s hotline Bimer, alleging that he was framed by Gülen-linked police officers and stated that he wanted to file complaints against all who were involved in the al-Qaeda investigation. In his letters he alleged that his wife was originally from the town of Güneysu in the northeastern province of Rize, the hometown of Turkish President Erdoğan and that his wife had blood ties to Erdoğan. He alleged that he overheard police talking about his connections to Rize and Erdoğan during his custody. In his handwritten note, he had a different version, though: He went further by claiming that the police directly asked him about his relation to Erdoğan and questioned why he did not like Israel.
He also claimed that he informed the police about his al-Qaeda sympathizer brothers, Yasin and Yunus, who had frequented a cafe popular with al-Qaeda militants in Istanbul. He said when he and his brother were detained by the police, he testified that he repeatedly warned his brothers to not go to that café, but to no avail.
According to his account, police pressured him to become a confidential informant. The police grew hostile when he was unable to provide relevant information about al-Qaeda because he alleged that he had been threatened by the terrorist group. Moreover, he added that he refused to enroll his son in a school run by the Gülen movement and that the police allegedly asked him why he was not reading books by Fethullah Gülen, an outspoken critic of Erdoğan, when they came to execute a search warrant on his home. Police allegedly asked him about attendance at anti-Israel protest rallies in front of mosques in Fatih and Beyazit. All these allegations that came seven years later did not seem credible; yet Erdoğan’s loyalist and partisan prosecutors needed dirt, even fabricated stories, to go after police chiefs with distinguished records.
Handwritten letter by a convicted al-Qaeda felon who leveled unsubstantiated charges against police investigators:kara2_redacted
His deposition was initially taken by Adana prosecutor Ismet Afsar on September 7, 2016. Another was taken by a Kilis prosecutor. All of them referred his complaints to Istanbul, where the original charges were leveled against Kara. The paperwork trail showed that prosecutor İsmail Ünsal treated these baseless allegations seriously and took another statement from him on December 22, 2016 through a teleconference from the maximum security prison in Adana where he was incarcerated. Then he ordered the police on February 14, 2017 to probe all the investigators who were involved in looking into the al-Qaeda cell in 2009. When he did not get a response, Ünsal sent repeated written warnings to the police to update him with the status of the investigation. In the end, the police compiled a report on January 23, 2019 and submitted it to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Prosecutor İsmail Ünsal, an Erdogan loyalist, treated false claims by an al-Qaeda convict as criminal evidence against police officers:kara1_redacted
On February 13, 2018 Istanbul Deputy Police Chief Gafar Demir sent the names of 25 police chiefs and officers whose names and signatures appeared in the paperwork concerning the al-Qaeda investigation that resulted in the conviction of Kara and others. The list showed that many of the police chiefs were imprisoned on trumped-up charges, while a few remained at large, meaning that they had to flee Turkey to escape wrongful imprisonment.
The veteran police chiefs who were the subject of complaints by the al-Qaeda convict have already been facing prosecution for investigating corruption in the government and other crimes that Erdoğan wanted swept under the rug:kara5_redacted
All 25 police officers whose signatures appeared in court documents that were related to the prosecution of the deadly al-Qaeda cell in Istanbul:kara4_redacted
The police officers named by the al-Qaeda suspect were already in the cross-hairs of the Erdoğan government for their role in uncovering a major corruption scheme that incriminated Erdoğan himself in December 2013. Some of the officers named in the complaint included Ömer Köse, Ömer Faruk Oğuz, Ramazan Arslanalp, Salih Ergün, Çetin Erdemir, Emrah Şimşek, Fuat Tekin, Hasan Basri Kahraman, Hasan Yüksek, Kazım Aksoy, Mustafa Karabörk and Mutlu Ekizoğlu. On February 2, 2019 prosecutor Ünsal decided that there was no need for a separate prosecution against the police chiefs who were already facing charges. At the the same time, however, he considered the al-Qaeda convict’s statements as criminal evidence and sent the complaints to various courts where police officers were being tried on fabricated charges. The al-Qaeda member’s baseless allegations were incorporated into the case files against the police officers.
It is no surprise that the police officers who did their job by going after terrorists and crooks were punished by the Erdoğan regime, which is proven to have aided and abetted armed jihadist groups in Syria.