December 22, 2015

From al-Qaeda to Amsterdam, from İstanbul to Pennsylvania

Bülent Keneş

I guess a lawsuit that had its first hearing on Tuesday in İstanbul has garnered heightened interest, not just in Turkey, but also in Europe and the US.

The "conspiracy against the Tahşiyeciler" (‘Tahşiyeciler' is roughly translated as ‘The Annotators,' referring to a radical Islamist network) trial, heard by the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court, is very likely to have trans-boundary effects. Oddly enough, it is the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that paved the way for this potential effect. As you know, lawyer Robert Amsterdam, the founder of Amsterdam & Partners LLP, hired by the ruling AKP using public resources collected from Turkish taxpayers, launched legal action against Fethullah Gülen in Pennsylvania, in the US, with baseless charges in connection with this Tahşiye trial on Dec. 10.

Being a controversial yet famous lawyer, Amsterdam must have sufficient information about the radical Islamist structure, the Tahşiye network, known for its close ties with al-Qaeda. There is no doubt that he is also aware of what sort of process he has triggered by bringing this trial to the US judicial system with the money of and on an order from the ruling AKP. Yet I think the US judicial authorities and the public may not have sufficient information about this matter. As I know the poor state of the Turkish judiciary, I don't expect that the lawsuit that commenced in İstanbul on Tuesday will produce a fair result, but I hope this lawsuit will help US judicial authorities and the public to have sufficient information about this network. Therefore, it would be prove particularly beneficial if the US authorities and the US public -- which nurtures sensibilities regarding radical Islamist violence -- to closely monitor the trial in İstanbul.

This trial will certainly be instructive in terms of showing how President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP government under his control make state organs and the judiciary into mere tools for their personal grudges and revengeful sentiments. It will also give the international community a serious idea of the stance of Erdoğan and the AKP government against radical Islamist terror and violence. This unfounded trial forms the very basis of the legal action brought against Mr. Gülen in the US. As you know, Mr. Gülen inspires the Hizmet (Gülen) movement, which is one of, and perhaps the most effective, rare Islam-based global civil society organizations (CSOs) -- or perhaps it is the only one—raising its voice against radical Islamist violence and terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) -- as seen in Mr. Gülen's article published last week in Le Monde. It invests its energy in building peace around the world and promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue.

The entire international community, particularly including US judicial authorities, should learn more about the Tahşiye network, which will be defended by Amsterdam, who receives remuneration from the AKP government. So let us get to know the Tahşiye network more closely: First of all, when the organs of the Turkish state were still intact and independent judicial organs were still functioning in Turkey, the intelligence and police authorities kept tabs on the Tahşiye network, and the reports they prepared about this network refer to it as a radical Islamist group that is prone to violence and terrorism. More importantly, these reports mention the Tahşiye network by name as being affiliated with the international radical Islamist terrorist organization al-Qaeda. This group opts to understand the Islamic concept of "jihad" not as a struggle for self-purification, but as a holy war against "infidels" under the command of terrorists like Osama bin Laden of al-Qaeda. And they can readily define any Islamic approach other than their own marginal understanding as "infidel." The members of the Tahşiye network endorse the use of terrorist methods in their "jihad" and they treat interfaith dialogue as their archenemy.

On the one hand, there is an Islamic scholar who inspires the Hizmet movement, which represents the peaceful face of Islam, with its education, benevolence and intercultural dialogue activities. Yet there is this marginal radical Islamist group known for its sympathy to Osama bin Laden and which has made a call for supporting the radical terrorist organization al-Qaeda. Amsterdam will really have a hard time with the independent judicial mechanism of the US, which functions as it is supposed to function. It will really be interesting to closely monitor the progress of this lawsuit in the US court as he seeks to defend an al-Qaeda-linked radical Islamist group against the world's most peaceful Islamic CSO.

Now, let us focus on the trial launched in Turkey. The lawsuit brought against 33 people, including Samanyolu Broadcasting Group President Hidayet Karaca, who has been unlawfully held in Silivri Prison for more than one year (the other defendants are police officers), is based on a 332-page indictment compiled from the baseless publications of the pro-AKP media outlets. In a highly controversial decision, the Bakırköy 3rd High Criminal Court acquitted all the defendants in the main Tahşiye lawsuit only one week before the trial began, and this decision casts further doubts on the suit. This planned “coincidence” naturally gives rise to the doubt that it may be an attempt to manufacture evidence for this sloppy lawsuit.

Then-Prime Minister Erdoğan was criticized for failing to sufficiently combat al-Qaeda just ahead of a visit to the US, and in response to these criticisms, the police launched a comprehensive crackdown on al-Qaeda, mainly in İstanbul, on Jan. 22, 2010, and then-İstanbul governor Muammer Güler, who would later serve as interior minister held a press conference about this operation. Güler said: "In cooperation with the police departments in [the provinces of] Ankara, Erzurum, Kayseri, Kırıkkale, Niğde and Samsun, the İstanbul Police Department and the Gendarmerie Command launched a concerted crackdown on Jan. 22, 2010 on a radical, religious terrorist organization, an al-Qaeda terrorist organization. As a result of the operation, 57 people were apprehended and taken into custody. In the searches conducted of their homes and workplaces, three hand grenades, one smoke bomb, seven pistols, cartridges, a dagger and numerous organizational documents as well as tape recorders were siezed."

Oddly enough, this operation came just ahead a critical visit by Erdoğan to the US, and Governor Güler described its significance as follows: "We learned that some of the members of the organization who were apprehended had traveled abroad through legal or illegal means and stayed in places that were known as jihad zones, and the members who were to be sent to jihad zones were trained in the forests and that military training was provided to these members. We also know that some members who were detained during this operation were linked to Louai Sakka, al-Qaeda representative for Europe, Turkey and Syria, as well as with Habib Aktaş, who was involved in the bomb attacks of Nov. 15-20, 2003, and who later died in Iraq."

Since 2003, the group's tendency for violence and terrorism has been brought to the agenda on various occasions, and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) sent memos to the relevant authorities -- namely on Feb. 17, 2009, on April 17, 2009 and on April 30, 2009 -- warning them about the group. However, the trial that began on Tuesday is based on the claim that Mr. Gülen plotted against this so-called “peaceful" Islamist group by sending instructions to police officers. The evidence is the scenario of a soap opera aired on Samanyolu TV in 2009 and a sermon Mr. Gülen gave on April 6, 2009. The claim is that Mr. Gülen used this sermon and an episode of this soap opera to send instructions to the police officers. Another piece of evidence is an unlawfully wiretapped conversation between Mr. Gülen and Karaca in 2013.

Does this telephone conversation include any reference to the Tahşiye network or the police operation against this network? Of course not. Indeed, as seen in the MİT reports on this network, the police department knew about this network long before Mr. Gülen delivered his sermon. "The report on the Tahşiye network had been sent by MİT long before Fethullah Gülen's sermon," former General Staff Intelligence Department Head retired Lt. Gen. İsmail Hakkı Pekin told Bugün newspaper.

The gendarmerie took part in the crackdown on the Tahşiye network, in addition to the police. Many prosecutors, judges and security bureaucrats participated in the run-up to the crackdown. Thus, prosecutors, judges and police chiefs from all walks of life and ideologies played a role in the operation. That said, the claim about Gülen conspiring against the Tahşiye network in itself seems to be a conspiracy.

Oğuz Kağan Köksal, who later became a deputy for the AKP, was the general director of the National Police Department when the crackdown on the Tahşiye network was conducted in 2009. In the document authorizing the crackdown, signed by then-Police Intelligence Department head Hüseyin Namal, the emphasis was on the fact that Tahşiye leader Mehmet Doğan had ordered the group's followers to perform violent acts. On Köksal's authorization, previously identified places were raided simultaneously. At that time, Beşir Atalay was the interior minister. Prosecutor İsmail Uçar and Police Department General Director Halis Böğürcü, who are known to be close to the AKP government, took part in these investigations and operations.

The Tahşiye network's tendency toward violence can be confirmed from publicly available resources as well. For instance, Tahşiye leader Mehmet Doğan took part in a live broadcast on CNN Türk TV and when asked about his views on Osama bin Laden, he replied: "I love Osama bin Laden because he is a Muslim.” In various video recordings posted on the Internet, Doğan told his followers to go to Afghanistan to engage in war and that it is religiously permissible to revolt against the administration in countries like Turkey. In an interview he gave to Ahmet Çelik of the HaberTürk newspaper on Dec. 17, 2014, Doğan said, in response to persistent questions about al-Qaeda and ISIL: "These are political issues. They are not our tasks."

Moreover, the police were keeping track of Doğan in 2009 and in a voice recording he was heard to say: "The head of the government is not your man. The cleric in the lead is their man... Well, you'll say, 'What can we do?' And I say, 'Go and build weapons and kill them.' Ferşat's father is a cleric. He works at home. He builds missiles. Do it, as it is perfectly permissible. Without swords, you cannot promote Islam. The governments that are outwardly Islamic but which do not implement Islamic Shariah law, such as Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Iran and other Islamic countries, will soon be destroyed and perish. Soon, not in the remote future."

I don't know how Amsterdam will convince US judicial authorities to believe that Doğan is a "peaceful and innocent Muslim," but here is another remark from Doğan, talking about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda: "An army will emerge in Afghanistan. When you hear about the emergence of that army, go and join at all costs, even this requires you to crawl."

Take it easy, Mr. Amsterdam... Your task won't be a walk in the park.

Published on Today's Zaman, 22 December 2015, Tuesday