A Turkish Islamist figure suspected to have links to a terrorist organization was provided a platform by the Turkish president’s family foundation to preach to the younger generation and allowed to compete for a nomination on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ticket in an election, a Nordic Monitor investigation has found.
İkram Soltan, a 54-year-old Turkish national from Bayburt province, had been monitored by a police intelligence unit for suspected ties to the outlawed Muslim Youth Organization (Müslüman Gençlik Örgütü), a terrorist group that functioned as a breeding ground for armed jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda.
The documents show that police intelligence obtained a warrant to wiretap his phone on February 27, 2009. The Istanbul 3rd High Criminal Court reviewed the request and allowed the police to intercept Soltan’s phone communications.
The monitoring of his phone continued in 2010, with his Gmail account added to the police surveillance. On May 6, 2011 the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court granted a renewed wiretap request filed by the police to eavesdrop on Soltan’s phone conversations.
Wiretap authorization was granted by an Istanbul high criminal court for the police to listen in on the phone conversations of İkram Soltan:Ikram_Soltan_warrant_court_authorization_wiretap
Soltan’s name raised a red flag when the police picked up intelligence which showed that he and several others were planning to launch what was described as “sensational activities and demonstrations” at universities and other places. He was tracked by the C-unit of the intelligence section, which monitors radical religious groups and terrorist organizations with a view to preventing attacks before they take place.
A separate document, classified as secret and submitted to the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court as supporting evidence for a wiretap warrant on October 3, 2012, explained how the Muslim Youth group was considered a dangerous organization that was monitored by intelligence.
In 2011 police filed a fresh warrant request with the court to wiretap Soltan’s phone; the court granted the request:Ikram_Soltan_surveillance_2011
According to the intelligence file, the group first emerged in 1985-1986 among university students who were protesting the government’s headscarf ban. It was established by a radical figure named Tahir Gül, who studied at Istanbul Technical University between 1985 and 1992. The aim was to set up a religious shariah state and dismantle the secular and democratic structure of the country’s governance.
Their members seized the opportunity to make a name for themselves by exploiting divisive issues among the public, organizing rallies right after Friday prayers and leading youth protests. Three suspects — Harun İlhan, Adnan Ersöz and Baki Yiğit, who were arrested after the deadly 2003 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in İstanbul in which two synagogues, an HSBC bank branch and the British Consulate General were bombed — were members of the Muslim Youth organization according to the file. They were groomed to be al-Qaeda militants under the umbrella of Muslim Youth.
The attacks killed 58 people and left more than 600 injured. It was the largest terrorist act in Turkey at the time. Both İlhan and Ersöz were part of the five-member secret Shura Council (consultative body) that was involved in every step of the planning of the attacks. They were in the senior leadership of al-Qaeda’s Turkish network and were sending candidates for arms and explosives training in Afghanistan.
İkram Soltan was monitored in 2009 and 2010 for suspected links to a terrorist group:Ikram_Soltan_surveillance_phone_email
İlhan and Yiğit were convicted and sentenced to aggravated life by the Istanbul 10th High Criminal Court. Ersöz was also convicted and sent to prison to serve a life sentence. The convictions were upheld by the 9th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Although he had been flagged by intelligence for his radical activities, Soltan managed to run for nomination on the AKP ticket during President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s campaign in the 2015 general election. He was unsuccessful in securing a bid for the ticket from the third electoral district in Istanbul.
Soltan was also a keynote speaker at youth events organized by the Erdoğan family’s Turkey Youth Foundation (Türkiye Gençlik Vakfı, TÜGVA). The foundation is run by Presient Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan and plays a crucial role in the dissemination of radical Islamist ideology among young people. The foundation enjoys generous funding from municipalities and businesses close to the government and has branches all over Turkey. President Erdoğan described the aim of TÜGVA and other family organizations as “working for the construction of a new civilization,” and they act as quasi-official regime charities.
Soltan, a graduate of the religious IHL high school, has long been active with various religious groups and helped establish foundations and associations such as Avcılar Vakfı, Gülder Gençlik Derneği and Yediveren Derneği. He was among the leaders of the Human and Civilization Movement (İnsan ve Medeniyet Hareketi, İMH), an Islamist group that organized rallies to endorse President Erdoğan and held protests against Egypt in support of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was president of the İMH for six years.