Zaman: A politically motivated witch hunt against police investigators who uncovered a highly secretive Iran-backed terrorist network that has ties to senior government officials has reversed direction and hit the government by revealing to the public damaging details from the prosecutors’ confidential investigation files.
Ankara – A politically motivated witch hunt against police investigators who uncovered a highly secretive Iran-backed terrorist network that has ties to senior government officials has reversed direction and hit the government by revealing to the public damaging details from the prosecutors’ confidential investigation files.
The publication of leaked details on the Tawhid-Salam case file in independent media outlets indicate that embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government’s attempts to cover up the investigation have backfired.
Last week, the Bugün and Yurt dailies ran stories detailing the structure of terrorist Tawhid-Salam — also known as the Jerusalem Army — which has killed leading intellectuals and attacked Western, Israeli, Arab and other diplomatic targets in Turkey. The names of a number of Turkish and Iranian suspects, some of whom hold high positions in Erdoğan’s government, have been revealed in recent media reports and put the government in a difficult position.
A propaganda campaign on the part of pro-government media outlets aims to discredit the probe by publishing fabricated information, such as stating that up to 7,000 people with no connection to one another were wiretapped in an investigation of what was supposedly a fake terrorist organization, but with the release of new information, the campaign has effectively collapsed. Police chiefs who worked on the case file and prosecutors who secured court-authorized wiretaps on the suspects have been detained. Many of them have testified that the actual number of people put under surveillance was 234. Some 70 Iranian nationals with connections to the terror group were also wiretapped.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Mahmut Tanal claimed that Erdoğan’s government is closely involved with the Tawhid-Salam organization. “The government is part of it [Tawhid-Salam],” he said. He filed an objection against the dismissal of the Tawhid-Salam investigation that was dropped by the İstanbul Prosecutor’s Office under political pressure.
Ali Fuat Yılmazer, the former chief of the İstanbul Police Department’s intelligence unit, said Tawhid-Salam has penetrated deep into the government, in what amounts to international espionage. He has been detained by the government so that he and others involved in the investigation will keep their mouths shut.
The government has tried to downplay the significance of the serious breach of national security and has scrambled to contain the fallout. Erdoğan called the terror group “fake” and “imaginary” even though the Supreme Court of Appeals has accepted the group as a terrorist network and upheld the convictions of many of its members.
According to a report compiled from a three-year-long probe conducted by police investigators, Tawhid-Salam has allegedly been operating through four independent cells, all of which are directed by Iranian intelligence operatives who report directly to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
First cell focuses on ‘sensitive targets’
The first cell is allegedly headed by Naser Ghafari, one of the commanders that the IRGC assigned to Turkey, who operates under the cover of a diplomatic passport attached to the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul.
Hüseyin Avcı Yazıcıoğlu, a Turkish citizen who was wiretapped by Iranian intelligence a long time ago, is a key operative in this cell. In 2011, his wife Kamile Yazıcıoğlu reported his activities with Iranian agents to the police; she provided the police investigators with valuable documents as well as sensitive information that her husband had been holding.
Yazıcıoğlu, the director of Sincan Municipality’s education and culture department in the late 1990s, was involved in profiling activities and aiding and abetting Tawhid-Salam. He fled to Iran in the late 1990s, when he organized a meeting with senior Iranian diplomats called “Quds Night” that started the process of a post-modern coup that forced the Islamic led-coalition government to resign in 1997. He provided valuable information to his superiors, according to the investigation. For example, Aziz Babuşçu, head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) İstanbul branch, and several other several AK Party members were among the list of profiled political figures.
The investigation also discovered that the terrorist cell had carried out reconnaissance on the US Consulate General in İstanbul in 2010, seemingly in preparation for an attack on the building. Yazıcıoğlu and his accomplices had produced a detailed surveillance report that indicated empty shops and flats that could be rented to monitor the consulate. The various rental prices of the flats overlooking the entrances to the building were also listed.
During the reconnaissance activity, Selçuk Çetin and Engin Bilgin, both of whom were allegedly working for Yazıcıoğlu, used rented and municipal vehicles to scout the neighborhood. In the next phase of the investigation into the Tawhid-Salam network, police verified that the suspects’ cell phone activity had been recorded on Oct. 5-6, 2010, in the neighborhood of the US Consulate General. As part of their surveillance activity around the consulate, members of the cell suggested using a minaret near the consulate building as well as renting a flat for TL 800 a month from which one of them would be able to spy on the building.
Yazıcıoğlu, his son and other members in the cell had drawn plans of the Nuclear Research Institute in İstanbul’s Halkalı neighborhood and delivered the details to Iranian intelligence.
Second cell taps key operatives
The second cell in the Tawhid-Salam terror network is run by IRGC Gen. Sayed Ali Akber Mir Vakili, who maintained two safe houses in İstanbul’s Ataköy neighborhood and reported directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Its suspected members include National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan, former AK Party deputy Faruk Koca, media distributer Abdülhamit Çelik and one of Tawhid-Salam’s founders, Hakkı Selçuk Şanlı.
Çelik is on record as a member of the terrorist network. He was convicted of killing two opponents of the Iranian regime in Turkey and given a prison sentence of 12 years, six months, but he was released in 2004 following an amnesty agreement by Erdoğan’s government. During his testimony in May 2000 as part of the Tawhid-Salam probe, Çelik admitted that he had been trained in Iran to stage attacks in Turkey and conduct intelligence operations on behalf of Iran for over two months. He also acknowledged that the Iran-based Quds Force, a special unit of the IRGC, had obtained bombs from him and had staged attacks in Georgia and Thailand.
Police investigators discovered the footprints of Çelik, who is also the owner of the Sena dental firm, at the site of a bomb attack that targeted the Israeli Consulate General in İstanbul’s Etiler neighborhood in 2011, which led to Ayten Bal losing her leg and injured seven others. Initial investigations suggested that the bombing was an act of terrorism committed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) due to the proximity of the blast to a police academy building, but further investigation clarified that Tawhid-Salam had carried out the attack. Using street camera recordings, police were able to trace a bomb-laden bike to a storage unit in İstanbul’s Fatih district that had been rented by an Iranian with the Quds Force, Rezazadeh Metin, using a false identity. The bomb was supplied by Çelik.
Şanlı, another member in the second cell, allegedly helped set up the Quds Force operation in Turkey on orders from then-IRGC commander Nasir Takipur in the 1990s. While working for Takipur, Şanlı was involved in terror attacks targeting US interests in Turkey. Şanlı was arrested on May 13, 2000 in police raids against the Tawhid-Salam terrorist network; meanwhile, Takipur fled to Iran. Şanlı was tried and sentenced to 12 years in prison, but like Çelik, was freed in 2004 when the Erdoğan government passed an amnesty bill in Parliament reducing the sentences of a number of convicts.
Şanlı kept a low profile for a while after his release — until he was re-engaged by Iranian agents. Police discovered that Şanlı regularly delivers Iranian “hush money” to the families of the murderers of Turkish intellectual Uğur Mumcu and others killed in the 1990s; every month, on orders from Sayed Ali Akber Mir Vekili, he visits convicts Ferhan Özmen and others.
In the 1990s, Şanlı and Mumcu’s killer Özmen met regularly at a car dealership in Ankara that is owned by Koca, another member of the cell. Fidan, a non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the Turkish military at the time, regularly attended the meetings. Koca, one of the founders of the ruling AK Party who later on became a deputy, was described as being pro-Iran and even named his son after Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Rouhollah Mousavi Khomeini. He was also the landlord of a house that Erdoğan rented in the early 2000s. A wiretap was later found there.
He has become wealthy under the Erdoğan government, while he has apparently kept in close contact with Mir Vekili. Koca owns S’LO Cafe, a prestigious establishment in Ankara’s Çukurambar district that is patronized by the new elite in Ankara. The investigation discovered that the top floor of S’LO Cafe is reserved for special guests and that Fidan had Turkish intelligence secure this location against possible eavesdropping. These special guests — including Fidan, Koca, Mir Vekili and Şanlı, according to the leaks — use the back door to access the top floor for meetings.
The police determined that Koca works as a liaison between Fidan and Mir Vekili. A wiretap record from Dec. 1, 2013 reveals that Koca, on instructions from Fidan, set up an emergency contact with Mir Vekili to secure permission for a plane carrying Energy Minister Taner Yıldız to land in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil. Mir Vekili says he will talk to his contacts at Tehran to convince the Iraqi leadership to allow Yıldız to visit Arbil after stopping in Baghdad.
With the help of an informant, the police also discovered that Mir Vekili had learned of a high-profile argument within Erdoğan’s government two days before media outlets published it. According to a leak reported by Twitter user @ACEMUSAKLARI, Fidan had been sharing confidential information about Cabinet meetings with Mir Vekili. Media outlets reported that Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç had tendered his resignation and stormed out of a Cabinet meeting after a fight with Erdoğan, but was later convinced to withdraw his resignation.
It was alleged that Fidan was recruited by Iran in the 1990s through Shiite study meetings in Ankara and that Koca was the point person in facilitating the meetings. The most alarming document against Fidan was discovered on Jan. 17, 2000, when a huge archive was seized by the police during a raid on a safe house operated by Hezbollah in İstanbul. The document revealed the names of public employees who were working for Iran.
Fidan, an NCO at the time, was listed by the code name “Emin.” Police notified military intelligence about Fidan, who later quit the military service. During the surveillance, police discovered that the same code name for Fidan was used in conversations among suspects in the Tawhid-Salam network as well.
Fidan also has links to the first cell. Yazıcıoğlu maintained close contact with Fidan and met him several times, according to Kamile. She said her son and Fidan’s son were friends from school and that her husband had used their son to set up meetings with Fidan.
Third cell plants agents of influence for Iran
The third cell in the Tawhid-Salam network is operated by Ghafari and included people used as spies by Iranian intelligence, according to the police. This cell was entrusted with infiltrating the Turkish government, promoting a positive public opinion towards Iran and collecting valuable information to pass to Iran. Burhan Kavuncu was alleged to be one member of the cell. He maintained secret ties with Iran for 30 years. Court-authorized police wiretapping records revealed that Kavuncu frequently talked to Iranian agent Ghafari, who used payphones in Ankara and İstanbul to set up meetings. On several occasions police surveillance photographed both men when they met.
Kavuncu is alleged to have a wide network in the Turkish government, including the then-prime minister’s undersecretary and current interior minister, Efkan Ala, who was described as being sympathetic to the Iranian revolution and Shiite ideology. During Erdoğan’s visit to Tehran, where he met with Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei in 2013, Ala was reportedly given Khamenei’s prayer stone. Furkan Torlak, Kavuncu’s son-in-law, is alleged to be among those who organized the planting of Iranian sympathizers in the Turkish government.
A wiretap audio file recorded on Jan. 4 reveals Kavuncu asking Ala to speed up security clearance for his son-in-law, Torlak, to start working as the prime minister’s advisor. Torlak is now working at the ruling AK Party’s headquarters for Deputy Chairman Numan Kurtulmuş. Torlak was accused of coordinating the planting of pro-Iranian sympathizers in government institutions including the state-run Anadolu news agency, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) and the Undersecretariat for Public Security. The investigation also reveals how Ghafari used the pro-Iranian Yeni Akit daily to signal to other operatives to flee Turkey when he was alerted by pro-Iranian officials in the government that he was under surveillance.
The leak by @ACEMUSAKLARI alleges that Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay has been a long-time Iranian sympathizer as the police investigation into his background revealed, which was added to the Tawhid-Salam investigation case file. The leak claims that Atalay’s family originates from Iran, even though his family settled in the Keskin district of Kırıkkale province, an hour’s drive to the east of Ankara. His family has been very active in the Shiite Bab-ı Ali (Ehl-i Beyt) İlim Vakfı foundation in the province. The contact address for this foundation is listed as the Çile Bookstore, whose owner Bahattin Atalay is the brother of Beşir Atalay.
The investigation file claims that Atalay was exposed to Iranian propaganda throughout his youth. He even went to Iran to attend annual celebrations of the Iranian revolution. A confidential police document dated Feb. 26, 1982, reveals that Atalay, a research assistant in the department of sociology at the Faculty of Management and Economy of Erzurum Atatürk University, went to Tehran to attend the third annual celebrations for the Iranian revolution. He was arrested on April 27, 1983, in Erzurum when police raided different cells as part of an investigation into an Iranian-linked network in the eastern province. Police found Iranian revolutionary documents and materials in Atalay’s house. He told the police he had spent 12 days in Iran.
In 1984, police sent a confidential memo on Beşir Atalay to the rector’s office at Erzurum University, detailing his activities, which included seminars in student houses praising the Iranian revolution and recruiting for an Iranian group in the university. He reportedly taught a doctrine that Turkey could also be saved with a similar revolution. The police also exposed Atalay’s links to then-Iranian consul M. Tahari at the Iranian consulate in Erzurum. Atalay also served as the rector of Kırıkkale University between 1992 and 1997 and appointed pro-Iranian sympathizers to key positions at the university. The investigation file claims that he also established the Fifth Way group at Kırıkkale University, which was officially organized under the Fifth Season Association. Its members subscribe to radical Shiite doctrine and praise Shiite ideology as the fifth true school of thought in Islamic law that generally accepts the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafii and Hanbali schools as the leading Sunni schools of thought of Islamic jurisprudence.
Atalay was also believed to be the architect of Turkey’s tilt towards Iran during AK Party rule. He was identified as the key pro-Iranian official in helping Iran sympathizers move to senior positions in the Turkish government. Fidan and Interior Minister Efkan Ala are among many of his protégés, according to Twitter user @ACEMUSAKLARI. He publicly admitted in 2012 that he was the one who helped Fidan make a name himself in the government.
Fourth cell fifth column group
The fourth cell of the Tawhid-Salam terror group is operated by Iranian intelligence operatives and includes names like Hussain Muktediri, Ali Kıasat Far, and Hasan Şabani. The aim of this cell is to conduct fifth column activities and undermine Turkey’s national security.
The terror group staged bloody attacks on Turkey in the 1990s, including the murder of investigative journalist Mumcu, Professor Bahriye Üçok, intellectual and commentator Ahmet Taner Kışlalı and several other Kemalist-secularist intellectuals in Turkey as well as foreign diplomats such as Abdul Ghani Bedawi, a Saudi diplomat working as the second secretary at the Saudi Arabian Embassy, Ehud Sadan, the Israeli Embassy’s top security officer in Ankara, and Victor Marwick, who worked for a Turkish-US logistics group. The group also orchestrated attacks targeting Yash Palkumar, second secretary at the Indian Embassy, Abdullah Huseyin Kurabi, a member of staff at Egyptian Embassy, Hüseyin Osman, an employee at the British Embassy, and Zivarov Simiç, an employee at the Yugoslavian Consulate in İstanbul.