April 6, 2015

Prosecutor lays out far-fetched charges against Gülen, US and Turkish authors

A Turkish prosecutor's charges against military officers who took part in the interception of trucks transporting heavy weaponry to Syria make heavy use of far-fetched claims that involve contributors to The Washington Post and Today's Zaman as well as a moderate US-based Turkish Muslim scholar.

Public Prosecutor İrfan Fidan, who the government is believed to have tasked with derailing the critical probes incriminating Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his family members and associates, ordered over the weekend the detention of 34 military officers who intercepted the trucks, which were allegedly destined for extremist groups in Syria, in January 2014.

The leaks from Fidan's investigation file, published in Turkish dailies on Monday, paint a rather worrying picture of how the government-orchestrated investigation was manipulated to implicate Washington Post contributor David Ignatius, Taraf and Today's Zaman contributor Emre Uslu and Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, among others.

The main argument raised by the prosecutor hovers around the idea that that all the suspects listed in the investigation file have somehow conspired to work together to give an impression that Turkey's Islamist government aided and abetted extremist groups including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in Syria and elsewhere. Fidan also claims that the journalists were tasked to strengthen that impression and that Gülen, who is an outspoken critic of terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam, gave sermons drawing attention to radical religious threats.

In his findings, Prosecutor Fidan cites articles published in the Zaman and Today's Zaman newspapers, the most widely circulated dailies in Turkey in Turkish and English, respectively, as well as in the liberal Taraf daily, as evidence of a pattern. Twitter messages by Emre Uslu, who stated that Turkey may be classified as state-sponsor of terrorism if evidence emerges that the Turkish government did, in fact, supply arms to radical groups in Syria are also included in the findings. In fact, former US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone declared in December 2014 that the Turkish government "frankly worked" with the al-Nusra Front -- an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria -- along with other terrorist groups. Ankara also looked the other way as foreign jihadis used Turkey as a transit point on their way to Syria and Iraq.

The Turkish prosecutor connects the interception of the Syria-bound trucks belonging to the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) to the newspaper articles. He also describes warnings by Gülen concerning terrorism as orders to members of the military to seize trucks. He claims that a soap opera aired on the Samanyolu broadcasting network -- which is affiliated with the Gülen-inspired Hizmet movement, popularly known as the Gülen movement -- included several episodes that entertained the idea of the Turkish government assisting radical groups and how that may damage the nation's security.

Fidan also mentioned Ignatius, who wrote an article in The Washington Post in October 2013 in which he claimed the Turkish government disclosed to Iranian intelligence the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting their Mossad case officers in Turkey. He said that the article was somehow linked to the interception of the Syria-bound trucks via a separate investigation into the Iran-backed Tahwid-Salam terrorist organization, a probe that Fidan was quick to drop last year after investigators uncovered a comprehensive Iranian spy network incriminating Iran's Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force and their Turkish operatives.

Worried about the exposure of secret connections between Iranian agents and senior government officials, the Turkish government appointed Fidan to the case last year. On July 21, Fidan dropped the three-year investigation into Salam-Tawhid, and instead the police chiefs who had exposed the Iranian network in Turkey were charged as part of a government-backed operation. Detention orders last weekend suggest the gendarmerie was also targeted by the government after the police investigators who uncovered the Iranian network were put behind bars.

Fidan is one of the prosecutors who hushed up the Dec. 25, 2013 corruption investigation that incriminated Erdoğan's son and Yasin al-Qadi, a Saudi Arabian businessman who was on the US Treasury Department's “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” list, among other suspects.

In addition to claims about Ignatius, the Bugün daily reported on Monday that the summary of proceedings cites a lecture by Gülen titled “Murders in name of religion,” published on Sept. 25, 2013, in which Gülen underlines the difference between Islam and terrorism. The detention order reportedly states that soldiers stopped the Syria-bound trucks after receiving orders through the article written by Ignatius and the lecture given by Gülen.

“According to the summary of proceedings, American journalist David Ignatius gave the order to soldiers through an article published in The Washington Post, and the soldiers went into action. According to the allegation, [columnist] Emre Uslu posted a tweet, Fethullah Gülen gave a lecture, David Ignatius wrote an article and the soldiers organized themselves and stopped the [MİT] trucks,” Bugün wrote.

The military officers who were involved in the interception of the trucks are already undergoing a separate trial in a civilian court in Adana, where the incident took place. Several hearings in the court have already been held. Since İstanbul Prosecutor Fidan has no jurisdiction over the trial of military officers while their case is still pending in Adana, legal commentators have described the detention orders as illegal and scandalous.

What is more, military prosecutors have already cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, saying that they acted on an intelligence tip-off and complied with the search-and-seizure orders made by public prosecutors at the time. Since Turkey's intelligence law did not authorize MİT to carry arms, the government had to rush amendments to it through Parliament last year, authorizing MİT to stage operations after the incident.

Both the police and military officers are being probed under what opposition parties have described as trumped-up charges that range from alleged involvement in espionage to the leaking of confidential state documents during the interception of the Syria-bound trucks. The detentions are thought by the opposition to be part of an ongoing politically motivated witch hunt against the police officers who uncovered the highly secretive Iran-backed group Tahwid-Salam and the military investigators who seized the arm-laden trucks.

The government has claimed that the trucks were transporting humanitarian aid. However, military court documents have revealed that the cargo was heavy weaponry and munitions and was being escorted by Turkish intelligence officers. The local governor ordered the security forces to stop, executing a search warrant ordered by prosecutors, and the cargo was later returned to MİT's regional office.

The indictment against 28 police investigators who uncovered Tahwid-Salam has not yet been prepared, despite nine months having passed since they were put in pre-trial detention. Their defense lawyers say the prosecutor is deliberately delaying the filing of formal charges because of a lack of the evidence to indicate any wrongdoing on the part of the police investigators.

Fuat Avni, the infamous government whistleblower, tweeted on Sunday that Erdoğan wanted to distract the public after the botched rescue operation that killed Prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz in İstanbul along with his two captors from the outlawed Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C). He said Fidan was ordered by Erdoğan to detain the military officers involved in the interception of the trucks. Fidan initially tried to link military officers to the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink or the Tahşiyeciler case but later decided to connect them to the Tahwid-Salam case. Avni said the prosecutor based the case on a secret witness testimony compromised by false statements. Erdoğan framed the Turkish military in a plot, the whistleblower stated.

The current plot against officers, journalists and Gülen is very similar to the government-orchestrated crackdown on the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group and Zaman on Dec. 14, 2014 -- part of an attempt to muzzle the remaining free and independent media in Turkey. Samanyolu CEO Hidayet Karaca has been under arrest since then.

In the crackdown, which targeted 27 people including scriptwriters and a graphic designer, Karaca and three former police chiefs were arrested on charges of leading a terrorist network, while other detainees, including Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, were released pending trial. In a decision announced on Dec. 19, 2014, Judge Bekir Altun decided in favor of the arrest of Karaca, although Karaca's questions about the evidence for his alleged terrorist activities remain unanswered.

The only “evidence” supporting Karaca's arrest is a fictional TV series that was aired on Samanyolu TV in 2009 that mentions an extremist organization named Tahşiyeciler. The organization, which is sympathetic to al-Qaeda, was later subject to a police operation in which its leaders received prison time. The prosecutor argues that it was Karaca who plotted against this terrorist organization by means of sending messages to the police chiefs through the TV series that aired on his TV station.

Gülen was also identified as suspect in the case because he was highly critical of Tahşiyeciler in one of his lectures. Prosecutor claimed it was Gülen who ordered the crackdown on Tahşiyeciler in 2010 when in fact the intelligence community had been monitoring the group's activities for years before Gülen mentioned Tahşiyeciler.

Published on Today's Zaman, 06 April 2015, Monday