Abdulkadir Masharipov, an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist who carried out a bloody New Year’s Eve attack on an İstanbul nightclub in 2017 killing 39 people, said he was asked to give evidence against Fethullah Gülen, a scholar and vocal critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in exchange for better prison conditions, Nordic Monitor has learned.
Speaking to Nordic Monitor on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns, a former prisoner who was briefly in solitary confinement next to Masharipov’s cell in İstanbul’s Silivri Prison said Masharipov told him and other inmates that officials who were interrogating him wanted him to testify that was instructed to attack the nightclub by FETÖ, a derogatory term coined by the Turkish government to refer to the Hizmet/Gülen movement. He was reportedly promised better conditions in prison. The source also stated that it was an open secret known to everyone in the prison.
Nordic Monitor confirmed that Masharipov, a citizen of Uzbekistan, had been in solitary confinement since he was apprehended by the police. As he was sure to be sentenced to life in prison due to the nature of the crime, improved conditions were certainly a payoff he would have taken into consideration.
According to the source, Masharipov said he regarded the offer as an insult since he considered the Gülen movement a deviation from Islam and its followers to be friends of Christians and Jews, just like many pro-government Islamists and jihadists think in Turkey.
Nordic Monitor previously published the memoirs of a Turkish pro-Gülen businessman who was unjustly imprisoned with ISIS inmates in Morocco who treated him like an infidel, confirming Masharipov’s assertion that ISIS members viewed people affiliated with the Gülen movement as infidels.
The source also recalls that Masharipov said he did not regret killing scores of innocent people, certain he would rewarded in heaven. Spending most of his time reciting the Quran, he rarely spoke with other inmates or guards in his modest Turkish. He reportedly had no visitors in prison.
Nordic Monitor research shows that enticing Masharipov to give a false statement was not the first effort by the government to associate the murders with the Gülen movement. News stories published immediately after the massacre by media outlets controlled by the government indicate that the Erdoğan administration had the intention of using the incident as a tool to blame the movement internationally as well as to cover its for-show-only struggle against ISIS.
Akit, an anti-Semitic and anti-Western newspaper supported by the government, claimed on January 5, 2017 that the attack was carried out in cooperation with the CIA, MOSSAD and FETÖ without mentioning ISIS.
Another government mouthpiece, the Star daily, reported that the Gülen movement was involved in the murders, claiming that bodyguards at the nightclub were allegedly Gülen followers and that rifles were provided by two intelligence agents, referring indirectly to MOSSAD and the CIA. Actually, no bodyguard at the nightclub has ever been detained or tried in court over the last three years.
Mahmut Övür, a columnist for the Sabah daily, which belongs to the Erdoğan family, wrote that the murderer was in touch with a lieutenant colonel affiliated with the movement but did not name the officer.
The Yeni Şafak daily argued that the movement spread misinformation about the identity of the murderer while the police were looking for him, ignoring the fact that images and news stories about a false perpetrator were published by the pro-government media after the incident, an effort to absolve of any mistakes the Istanbul police department, which was criticized for not taking due security precautions during New Year’s celebrations and not finding the murderer quickly despite security footage revealing his identity and escape route.
Last month Turkish gang leader Serkan Kurtuluş, who was arrested in Argentina on an Interpol Red Notice, admitted that some Turkish government officials had recruited him to put a hit on American pastor and former political prisoner Andrew Brunson, whom a Turkish court convicted of aiding terrorism.
“Even before the coup attempt, [officials] had started to talk about Brunson – that he was a spy and supporting terrorism. After the  failed coup, they wanted me to find someone to kill him and blame it on the Gülenists” Kurtulus told Fox News from jail in Buenos Aires.
Similarly, pro-government prosecutors drafted an indictment on the murder of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, stating that Fethullah Gülen and people allegedly affiliated with the movement were the prime suspects in the case. However, it turned out that Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, the police officer who killed the ambassador, was a sympathizer of al-Qaeda affiliate the al-Nusra Front in Syria, which was supported by the Erdoğan government, and that he was radicalized by cleric Nurettin (Nureddin) Yıldız, Erdoğan’s family cleric who was paraded as a keynote speaker at youth events organized by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and conferences and lectures sponsored by the Turkey Youth Foundation (TUGVA), which is run by Erdoğan’s family.
As expected, an İstanbul court sentenced Masharipov to life imprisonment on September 4, 2020, handing down the equivalent of 40 life sentences without the possibility of parole, in addition to 1,368 years in prison. The court found no links to the Gülen movement, and no one affiliated with the movement was tried. Masharipov denied his earlier statements to police admitting his guilt in the attack and claimed during his trial that he was not the person photographed holding a rifle in the nightclub.