As part of a massive purge in the country’s maın law enforcement agency, Turkey put the spotlight on bomb disposal experts and K-9 units who protected US President Barack Obama during a 2009 visit to Ankara, investigating police officers who handled bomb sniffing dogs in a bizarre and twisted legal move.
The investigation appears to have been a part of a secret government campaign to crack down on cooperation between Turkish and US law enforcement agencies and offers clues to the mistrust on the part of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan towards the US, a long-time ally.
According to documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, the prosecutor’s office looked into four police officers, — two bomb disposal experts and two canine handlers — who were assigned to ensure the security of Obama’s visit to Turkey. The assignment of police officers and their dogs as part of overall measures to beef up security during the visit of the US president was incorporated as criminal evidence in the case.
The assignment order was uncovered in investigation file No.2015/90707, which concerned veteran police chiefs who launched a nationwide crackdown on an al-Qaeda-linked Turkish group called Tahşiyeciler in Turkish, or Molla Muhammetçiler, a radical 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.
Turkish police assignment order that tasked bomb disposal experts and K-9 bomb sniffing dogs to provide security during the visit of US President Barack Obama in 2009:K_9_protection_Obama_visit_Turkey
Mullah Muhammed was publicly endorsed by President Erdoğan, who defended the cleric against charges, secured his release from prison and whitewashed the 2010 criminal investigation into the group, which sent fighters and cash to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Erdoğan government also punished police chiefs and prosecutors who launched the probe into the group and dismissed and/or jailed those who took part in preparing the case against Mullah Muhammed and his associates.
In an odd legal move, police officers who worked with the Criminal Lab Directorate and specialized in bomb disposal and bomb detection dogs were vindictively targeted by the government when a team from the department was part of a probe into explosives found in the homes of al-Qaeda suspects operating within the Mullah Muhammed group. On October 14, 2015 special prosecutor Hasan Yılmaz, hand-picked by the government, ordered the Criminal Lab to trace those officers in the bomb disposal and investigation department, which helped build a case against the cleric and his jihadist associates.
The Erdoğan government claimed the cleric was framed and that Mullah Muhammed and his accomplices were innocent of charges despite an overwhelming body of evidence collected by investigators in the form of seized guns, ammunition, bombs, wiretaps and financial transactions. The recorded conversations of Mullah Muhammed, distributed among his followers, exposed shocking details on how he told his faithful to build bombs and mortars in their homes and urged the decapitation of Americans.
The cleric claimed that the religion of Islam allowed such practices. “I’m telling you to take up your guns and kill them,” he said in recorded sermons, adding, “If the sword is not used, then this is not Islam.” According to Mullah, all Muslims were obligated to respond to then-al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s armed fight.
The government-orchestrated case to punish investigators involved in uncovering the criminal network of Mullah Muhammed even extended to journalists who wrote critically about the group as well. Hidayet Karaca, a prominent journalist who used to run major TV network Samanyolu, was indicted for defaming the group in a TV program aired by the network and sentenced to 31 years’ imprisonment. Turkey also issued an arrest warrant for journalist Ekrem Dumanlı for critical articles about Mullah Muhammed that were published in Zaman, Turkey’s one-time best selling national daily, of which Dumanlı was editor-in-chief. The newspaper was seized by the government in March 2016 and closed down in July 2016. Dumanlı moved into exile in the US after he was briefly detained in 2014.
The documents included by the prosecutor showed that a temporary duty assignment order was given to two bomb expert police officers, Köksal Öztaş and Bülent Başaran, as well as two K-9 dogs named Maske and Pupzik and their handlers, police officers Fikret Murat Günyüzlü and Ahmet Çam. The order, dated March 30, 2009, noted that President Obama was scheduled to visit Turkey on April 5 and 6, 2009, and the Security General Directorate (Emniyet) had asked for the deployment of a bomb disposal unit as well as a bomb-detection K-9 unit to secure Obama’s visit to Ankara.
The document shows 12 Turkish police officers were trained in Ankara in bomb disposal techniques by visiting US experts in 2009:Turkish_Police_trained_by_US_experts
The Criminal Lab listed all four officers and two bomb sniffing dogs as well as the vehicle brand and plate numbers that were used to perform assigned duties during Obama’s visit. There was nothing unusual about the assignment as it was a part of standard operating procedure within the police department to protect high-profile figures.
However, when the police bomb disposal and K-9 detection units were involved in uncovering bombs in the cells of the Mullah Muhammed group, the police department attracted the wrath of the Erdoğan government.
Other documents in the case file prepared by prosecutor Yılmaz further confirm that the Erdoğan government specifically targeted police officers who attended bomb disposal and detection courses in the United States or received training in Turkey by visiting US bomb experts as part of bilateral cooperation agreements signed by Turkey and the US.
For example, one document dated May 5, 2009 showed that 12 police officers were trained on the prevention of terrorist bombings by four US experts visiting Turkey. Another document dated December 23, 2008 indicated that 12 police officers were assigned to receive bomb disposal training in the US. Both documents were also listed as part of criminal evidence against investigators who cracked down on the al-Qaeda group.
Prosecutor Yılmaz was later rewarded by the government for his services whitewashing the crimes of the Turkish al-Qaeda network and was promoted to deputy chief prosecutor in Istanbul. In October 2020 the president appointed him deputy justice minister. Yılmaz prosecuted many government critics, especially members of the Gülen movement, a group that is critical of the Erdoğan government, as well as businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala on fabricated charges of terrorism.
The close cooperation between Turkish and US law enforcement agencies was dealt a heavy blow when December 2013 corruption cases about bribery in Iran sanctions evasion schemes incriminated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and is business and political associates. Erdoğan saw a US role behind the corruption investigations and accused US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, his arch-foe, of initiating the probe. Gülen denied the allegations, and the government offered no evidence to support Erdoğan’s claims.
Furious over the exposé, Erdoğan immediately sacked the police chiefs who had uncovered the scheme, hushed up the criminal case and secured the release of the main suspect, Reza Zarrab, a dual Turkish-Iranian national who bribed senior government officials.
The document shows 12 police officers were sent to the US in 2009 to receive bomb disposal training:Turkish_Police_trained_in_US
However, Zarrab was arrested by the FBI in Miami in 2016 and charged by the US attorney for the Southern District of New York with engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of transactions on behalf of the Iranian government, money laundering and bank fraud. He cut a bargain with prosecutors and decided to cooperate in a US federal case that exposed the role of Erdoğan, who had instructed Turkish state banks to participate in the multi-billion dollar scheme in exchange for kickbacks.
At the end of the trial, the deputy general manager of state lender Halkbank was convicted and served time before returning to Turkey. The co-conspirators who were indicted by the US federal prosecutors including former Economy Minister of Turkey in Erdoğan Cabinet remain at large.
In response, the Erdoğan government orchestrated in 2017 the arrest of Metin Topuz, who had been working at the US Consulate General in Istanbul since 1982. Topuz moved to the Drug Enforcement Agency at the consulate in 1993 and served as a liaison between Turkish police and the DEA. The Turkish government built a sham case to convict Topuz on fabricated charges of terrorism in June 2020. He was sentenced to eight years, nine months in prison on charges that the US government said lacked credible evidence. The pro-government media ran smears against DEA agents who were vilified in what appeared to be a government-run campaign to target US officials.
The government has purged some 33,000 police officers including senior and veteran chiefs from the force since 2013, often with no administrative or judicial investigations.