Turkish Islamist terror group the Islamic Great East Raiders Front (İslami Büyük Doğu Akıncıları Cephesi, IBDA-C) has become a silent partner in the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who halted investigations and surveillance of the group’s activities.
“We came under pressure from the [Erdoğan] government to delist IBDA-C as a terrorist organization starting in 2010 and stop monitoring the group’s militants,” a former senior intelligence official told Nordic Monitor. “Our response was that we cannot simply start treating IBDA-C as a peaceful group when it promotes violent ideology and armed attacks, while its members are tried and convicted for their involvement in multiple and deadly terrorist attacks,” he said.
The officer spoke on condition that his name be withheld for his safety and safety of family members who are still in Turkey.
The Erdoğan government managed to stop the monitoring of the group in January 2014 when it launched a major shakeup in the Turkish police department, the main law enforcement agency in Turkey, with an unprecedented reshuffling and numerous dismissals. The purge came after the December 2013 corruption investigations that incriminated President Erdoğan, his family members and his business and political associates in an Iran sanctions busting scheme.
2009 secret police report on IBDA-C that was submitted to the court as part of a brief to obtain a warrant to wiretap the militants:ibda_C_warranT_wiretap
The new leadership in the police was told to stop all al-Qaeda investigations and halt the monitoring of militants and surveillance activities. On July 22, 2014 the Erdoğan government secured the release of IBDA-C leader Salih İzzet Erdiş, known by his adopted name Salih Mirzabeyoğlu, who was convicted and was serving a life sentence for terrorist acts. Judges Canel Rüzgar, Cem Karaca and Mehmet Çelik, handpicked for the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court by Erdoğan, acquitted the IBDA-C leader of all charges in a hastily arranged, rushed retrial on March 2, 2016. Prosecutor Ali Kaya, who opposed the acquittal, was quickly removed from his position by the government.
After a string of terrorist acts by IBDA-C between 1994 and 1998, Mirzabeyoğlu was detained by the police in 1998 at his house, where he had stashed many weapons and a large sum of cash in foreign currency. On February 4, 2001 the Bakırköy 3rd High Criminal Court convicted him on multiple charges and sentenced him to death. The conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals on April 18, 2002, but his sentence was turned into life imprisonment in 2004 after Turkey abolished the death penalty.
The IBDA-C claimed responsibility for a range of terrorist acts in Turkey including what authorities said was a joint plot with al-Qaeda in carrying out the 2003 bombings in İstanbul of two synagogues, an HSBC bank branch and the British Consulate General, and a 2008 attack on the US Consulate General in İstanbul.
The 2009 confidential police intelligence report, obtained by Nordic Monitor, shows that the police department had conducted 17 planned intelligence sweeps against the IBDA-C, resulting in the criminal prosecution of its militants. As of August 2009 the police had detained 1,186 IBDA-C militants in total, seizing 146 various calibre guns, 80 hand grenades and explosives components. A total of 219 terrorist acts perpetrated by IBDA-C militants were solved, and 28 terror plots in the planning stages were thwarted by the police.
Today, many IBDA-C figures are welcomed by the Erdoğan government, and some have even been appointed to key positions in the administration. For example, Hamza Yerlikaya, a chief advisor to President Erdoğan who sits on the board of Vakıfbank, the country’s third largest state-owned bank, is known to have cultivated close ties with the IBDA-C group. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, the former chief of general staff, visited Mirzabeyoğlu’s grave on July 24, 2020 right after he attended the first Friday prayer held at Hagia Sophia, formerly a church, mosque and museum that was again converted into a mosque by President Erdoğan. Taner Yıldız, a former energy minister and Islamist politician, accompanied him.
Mirzabeyoğlu passed away in May 2018, but his network is very much alive and is in fact expanding. The IBDA-C runs the recruitment of Turkish jihadists who end up in Syria to fight for al-Qaeda as well as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The Erdoğan government also jailed veteran police chiefs, prosecutors and judges who had played role in cracking down on IBDA-C cells in the past.