Yusuf Selami Çakaroğlu, a Turkish pro-al-Qaeda cleric under indictment, escaped from the grip of the criminal justice system in Turkey thanks to the intervention of the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He has been freely preaching in Turkish provinces and parading on government-controlled TV networks to propagate radical views for some time now.
Çakaroğlu, 49, was part of what is called in Turkish the Tahşiyeciler, or Molla Muhammetçiler, a jihadist group led by Mehmet Doğan (aka Mullah Muhammed el-Kesri), who openly declared his admiration for Osama bin Laden and called for armed jihad in Turkey. The group had been under surveillance by Turkish security agencies since early 2000, and internal communiques among intelligence services described it as a dangerous group supportive of al-Qaeda. The probe revealed that the terrorist group had sent close to 100 people to Afghanistan for arms training.
On January 21, 2010 Çakaroğlu was detained as part of a nationwide crackdown on Turkish pro-al-Qaeda cells in an operation branded by investigators as a preventive action to thwart the group before it carried out deadly terrorist attacks. He was flagged when Turkish investigators were monitoring the phone traffic of Mullah Muhammed, with whom Çakaroğlu spoke on the phone on September 18, 2009.
Transcript of wiretap of the conversation between Yusuf Selami Çakaroğlu and Mullah Muhammed:Yusuf_Selami_Cakiroglu_wiretap_Mullah_muhammed
The police submitted a report requesting a wiretap warrant to listen in on Çakaroğlu’s phone calls on September 30, 2009 in order to find out who else was involved in the jihadist network. The court granted the request, and his phone was monitored for three months starting October 7, 2009. The authorization was renewed for another three months under investigation file no. 2009/1512. The police also obtained a warrant for physical surveillance of the suspect.
He was formally arrested at his arraignment and put in pretrial detention. During the execution of search warrants in the homes and offices of the suspects, police found surveillance maps of American, British and Israeli locations and intelligence notes that were collected for possible assassination plots. The police also 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. Çakaroğlu was released pending trial three months later at his first hearing.
An agricultural engineer by profession, Çakaroğlu was recruited by Mullah Mohammed in 1991 when he was interning for a company in Turkey’s conservative province of Muş in the Southeast. He became a preacher promoting his Sheikh Mullah Muhammed’s jihadist views. His case was later merged with another al-Qaeda case at the Istanbul 4th High Criminal Court.
The wiretaps portray Çakaroğlu as one of Mullah Muhammed’s star apprentices whom he called one of his “two cherished flowers.” He was one of the most trusted men in the group, helping move gold by way of courier to finance the radical group’s operations. For instance, in a wiretap recorded on September 3, 2009 at 16:12 hours, Mullah Muhammed was heard asking about the cash held by Çakaroğlu and whether he had converted it into gold. Çakaroğlu said he would soon send the gold by courier instead of using the banking system in order to avoid raising red flags with the authorities.
The wiretap transcript shows Mullah Muhammed instructing Yusuf Selami Çakaroğlu to send the gold to him:Funds_wiretap_Mullah_muhammed
In other wiretaps, Mullah Muhammed and his men talked about moving cash in millions of Turkish lira and investing in property development schemes. During an interrogation by police after his detention, Mullah Muhammed was asked to explain the discrepancy between his declared income and the huge sums of cash moving among cell members upon his orders. He said did not remember having conversations on cash transfers.
In a phone conversation recorded on May 25, 2009 at 11:47 hours, Mullah Muhammed instructed Çakaroğlu to take care of a problem in a cell in Erzincan province where Mullah Muhammed had appointed his nephew, Mahmut Doğan, as his representative, which had stirred up some resentment. He asked Çakaroğlu to make a trip there, handle the resentment, secure the allegiance of all members of the cell and have them take an oath on the Quran. “Be careful. You are going to do this, you will raise the Quran, do not come back without securing biat [allegiance]”, Mullah Muhammed told him on the phone.
The wiretap transcript shows that Mullah Muhammed ordered Yusuf Selami Çakaroğlu to secure the allegiance of cell members in Erzincan province:Yusuf Selamı Çakıroğlu_wiretap_caliphate.docx
In seized tape recordings intended for indoctrination purposes, Mullah Muhammed 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 decapitation of Americans, claiming that the religion allows such practices. “If the sword is not used, then this is not Islam,” he stated. According to him, all Muslims were obligated to respond to then-al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s armed fight.
The Financial Crimes Investigation Unit (MASAK) report on the banking activities of Yusuf Selami Çakaroğlu:Yisif_Selami_corakoglu_MASAK_report
Ali Fuat Yılmazer, the police intelligence chief, informed provincial intelligence units about the Tahşiyeyeciler on December 3, 2008, describing it as a radical group with a membership of around 5,000. The intelligence note stated that the group was spreading jihadist propaganda and listed cihaderi.net as one such site. According to the WayBack machine’s archived page of the now-defunct website, the group openly identified itself with al-Qaeda and posted news, videos and articles promoting armed jihadist activity around the world.
The declaration made by the administrators of cihaderi.net reads: “We are on the path and belief put forward by the jihadist community gathered under the banner of al-Qaeda, and where Sheikh Osama bin Laden, Sheikh Zawahiri and Sheikh Zarkawi wanted all jihadists around the world to follow and comply with.”
Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization’s (MİT) intel note on Tahşiyeciler dated March 5, 2009 profiled Mullah Muhammed as a man who was fully supportive of al-Qaeda, trying to bring all madrasah schools in Turkey under one umbrella to serve al-Qaeda ideology. It pointed out that Mullah Muhammed believed Turkey would be saved by an Islamic army led by al-Qaeda. The note also reveals Mullah Muhammed’s activities abroad, listing Munich, Berlin and Cologne as cities where Tahşiyeciler had been active. In France the al-Qaeda-linked group had limited activities, according to MİT. It had also cells in the Saudi Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina. It confirmed other intelligence gathered by the police in Erzincan on December 19, 2008 and the National Police Intelligence Bureau on April 29, 2009.
Erdoğan vigorously defended Mullah Muhammed, helped secure his and his associates’ acquittals through his loyalist judges and prosecutors, launched a crackdown on journalists who criticized his radical group and even hired a lawyer to file a civil suit in the US against Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen for defaming this fanatic. The Bakirköy 3rd High Criminal Court acquitted all suspects including Mullah Muhammed and Çakaroğlu of al-Qaeda charges on December 15, 2015. In a contradiction of past records, the Security General Directorate (Emniyet) also issued a new report whitewashing the activities of the group.
What is more, the Erdoğan government invited Mullah Muhammed and his men including Çakaroğlu in 2014 to file criminal complaints against the police officers, prosecutors and judges who investigated the group as well as journalists and Muslim scholars like Gülen who criticized this al-Qaeda-linked organization.
Portraying Tahşiyeciler as victimized, Erdoğan even launched a public campaign on behalf of Mullah Muhammed, saying in a speech delivered on December 15, 2014 that Mullah Muhammed was unjustly arrested, served 17 years in jail and lost 90 percent of the sight in both eyes. That was not true, of course, as the cleric served only 17 months and had perfect vision. He was reading quite easily from a document when he declared his love affair with Osama bin Laden during a live TV interview on CNN Türk with Akif Beki, a former spokesman for Erdoğan.
Erdoğan’s remarks came a day after police raided Turkey’s largest-circulating paper, Zaman, detained its editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı and arrested top manager of the Samanyolu TV network Hidayet Karaca over a complaint by Mullah Muhammed and his thugs. Erdoğan declared that those who targeted Mullah Muhammed would pay the price as the government would act on complaints from Tahşiyeciler. 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 ever since.
President Erdoğan ordered his media machine to run a favorable campaign for the group to win the hearts and minds of the Turkish public for the al-Qaeda-affiliated fanatics. Daily Sabah, an English-language daily 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.
Ibrahim Kalın, Erdoğan’s spokesperson, prepared an information file in English exonerating Tahşiyeciler as a “religious community,” and Turkish embassies were instructed to defend the group with 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 January 7, 2017, Kalın stated that Erdoğan personally handed over the document to Thorbjørn Jagland, an Erdoğan ally and the then-secretary-general of the Council of Europe during a meeting. The European Union Ministry sent the file to the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council. US congressmen and EU parliamentarians were also provided a copy.