In a symbolic move the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan designated an Azeri woman, a naturalized citizen of Turkey, as a member of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and froze her assets a month after she was quietly acquitted and let go by a court.
The failure of the criminal prosecution of a high-value ISIS militant and the symbolic designation of her on an asset freeze list by the Erdoğan government is yet another indication of a systematic and deliberate campaign to go easy on radical Islamist jihadists in Turkey.
Ulkar Mammadova, aka Hacer, is a 35-year-old Azeri who married senior ISIS Turkish leader Mustafa Dokumacı in Turkey and moved to ISIS-controlled territory in Syria’s Idlib province in 2014. She had been on a wanted list since August 2015 because of her alleged involvement in ISIS plots and bombings that took place in Turkey.
Her husband led a cell in southeastern Adıyaman province that later came to be known as the Mustafa Dokumacı Group in the ISIS network. The cell was involved in Turkey’s deadliest terrorist attack, on October 10, 2015, when ISIS suicide bombers killed 103 people in front of the Ankara Train Station. One of the suicide bombers, Yunus Emre Alagöz, was a protégé of Dokumacı who travelled with him to Syria.
Turkish intelligence suggested that Mammadova might be one of several suicide bombers and could stage a terrorist attack in Turkey. She was placed on list of terrorists who were wanted in Turkey, and a Red Notice was filed with INTERPOL for her arrest.
She turned herself in to a Turkish garrison on the border in October 2021 after ISIS was beaten in Syria in the crackdown by the US-led global coalition. She was brought to Turkey and questioned by the counterterrorism bureau of the Adıyaman police department. She expressed regret for joining ISIS and gave a statement identifying 60 people as ISIS members.
An indictment was filed with a court on November 2, 2021. In the first hearing of her trial at the Adıyaman 2nd High Criminal Court on November 29, she proclaimed her innocence and said she didn’t approve of any terrorist acts. Stating that she had lived a simple life in ISIS-held territory, she claimed she had never taken on any assignments.
Her husband was killed in a coalition drone strike on August 13, 2020, and she said that prompted her to look for ways to return to Turkey. She claimed she told the authorities everything she knew about ISIS in order to take advantage of Article 221 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), called the “active repentance” law, which reduces or vacates jail sentences of suspects who cooperate with investigators and provide information on the group they are charged with being connected to.
The prosecutor disagreed with her assertions and said she was not sincere in her cooperation and did not share all the information she had about ISIS, especially considering that her husband was a senior ISIS leader who was involved in deadly terrorist attacks in Turkey. The prosecutor urged the court to reject her motion and convict her on ISIS membership charges,
But the three-person panel of judges went with the defense motion, ruled for her acquittal and release at the first hearing and removed a previously issued flight ban for her. The only punishment was a fine for illegally crossing the Turkish-Syrian border upon her return.
Confidential file prepared by the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) on Ulkar Mammadova:ULKAR_MAMMADOVA_Redacted
On December 24, 2021, nearly a month after Mammadova avoided the criminal charges and was let go, Erdoğan signed a government decree that ordered a freeze of her assets and put her on a list of ISIS members. The move appears to have been merely symbolic and did not carry any weight, considering that she had no bank accounts or assets registered in Turkey under her name.
According to a confidential file obtained by Nordic Monitor from the records of the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) in 2022, not a single bank account or any real property or vehicle was registered in her name. She did not even maintain a residence in any province of Turkey and had no social security record, meaning she had never worked officially in the country.
On May 12, 2022 Mammadova appeared as a witness in a court in Ankara to testify in a trial concerning Ankara Train Station attack and revealed that Turkish troops helped her and her husband when they crossed into Syria in 2014 to join ISIS. “When we were crossing the border [illegally], Turkish soldiers saw us. We said, ‘We’re going to help [in Aleppo].’ The soldiers assisted us, carried our bags,” she told the judges of the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court.
Thousands of militants, both Turkish and foreign, have used Turkish territory to cross into Syria with the help of smugglers in order to fight alongside ISIS groups there. Turkish intelligence agency MIT has facilitated their travel, with Kilis, a border province in Turkey’s Southeast, one of the main crossing points into ISIS-held territory. Human smugglers were known to have been active in the border area, although Turkish authorities often overlooked their trips in and out of Syria.
Brett McGurk, the White House Middle East coordinator and former US special envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, accused Turkey of foreclosing “any serious cooperation on ISIS even as 40k foreign fighters flowed through its territory into Syria,” in a tweet he posted on October 9, 2019. “Tal Abyad, a Syrian border town, was the main supply route for ISIS from 6/14-6/15 when weapons, explosives, and fighters flowed freely from Turkey to Raqqa and into Iraq. Turkey refused repeated and detailed requests to seal its side of the border with US help and assistance.”
The Islamist government of President Erdoğan, which has controlled the criminal justice system since a mass purge of judges and prosecutors, has proven to be lenient and forgiving when it comes to punishing dangerous jihadists from the al-Qaeda and ISIS groups.