MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: Inquiry and Analysis Series No. 1636Turkish Government Released From Prison In 2019 Dozens Of Iran-Backed Hizbullah Hitmen Responsible For Over 100 Killings In Turkey

By: A. Smith

Recently in Turkey there have been reports that in 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government released from prison at least 32 men who had been sentenced to life in prison for their involvement in over 100 murders and membership in a group that in Turkish is referred to simply as “Hizbullah,” but to avoid confusion with the Lebanese group by the same name, is in English alternatively called Kurdish Hizbullah, Turkish Hizbullah, and Hizbullah in Turkey. The oft-repeated conventional wisdom is that this Turkish organization has no relationship to the better-known Iran-backed Lebanese organization by the same name. Several facts indicate tht this is not the case, and that Hizbullah in Turkey has received funding, logistical support, and training from the Iranian government.  

This analysis will review: the Turkish government’s release of Hizbullah members convicted of murder; the Turkish opposition’s response to news of the release; evidence of Iranian funding, logistical support, and training for Hizbullah in Turkey; and some of the activity of Hizbullah in Turkey today.

2019 Release Of Mehmet Salih Kölge, Deputy To Hizbullah Leader Hüseyin Velioğlu, 31 Other Men Responsible For 157 Operations Resulting In 91 Deaths

On April 25, 2022, Turkish journalist Özgür Cebe reported that right before the March 31, 2019 local elections, the Turkish government released from prison one Mehmet Salih Kölge, who had been the deputy of Hüseyin Velioğlu, the leader of Hizbullah in Turkey who was killed in a shootout with police in Istanbul on January 17, 2000.

Kölge had been given an “aggravated” life sentence in prison for ordering the killing of 91 people between 1992 and 2001 and for attending interrogations that involved torture and “hogtying.” The court was unanimous in confirming the ruling at the time, and said that he was responsible for giving orders and instructions for 157 armed incidents in which 91 people were killed and 66 others were injured in the Turkish cities of Gaziantep, Şırnak, Mardin, and Batman.

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Mehmet Salih Kölge (source: Cumhuriyet.com.tr)

Kölge reportedly discovered the Hizbullah organization while working in a bookshop in the city of Nusaybin in Turkey’s Mardin province. In a short time, he rose in the organization to reach its shura (i.e., high council), and worked in the information-processing center in safe houses connected to Velioğlu “to upload encrypted documents to computers.” Kölge was at the shura at which it was decided that Diyarbakir Security Director Gaffar Okkan, who was known for his robust stance on policing Diyarbakır and whom the organization held responsible for the death of its leader Hüseyin Velioğlu, would be assassinated. On January 24, 2001, in Diyarbakır, as many as 10 attackers using long-barreled rifles and intersecting fields of fire participated in the assassination of Okkan, which resulted in the deaths of Okkan as well as four bodyguards, Sabri Gün, Mehmet Sepetçi, Atilla Durmuş, and Selahattin Baysoy, and one administrator, Mehmet Kamalı. Thousands of people attended Okkan’s funeral, and the BBC and CNN reported on the assassination at the time.

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As many as ten assassins using long-barreled rifles and intersecting fields of fire assassinated Gaffar Okkan in Diyarbakır on January 24, 2001.

The court’s judgment recorded that after one Salih Karaaslan, a former member of Hizbullah, had decided to marry Özgür Elmas, a former konsomatris at a bar in Gaziantep province, Kölge told Karaaslan: “The congregation [i.e., Hizbullah] will not permit this disgrace. You are a Muslim. Abandon this woman or you will both die.” Despite this threat, Karaaslan and Elmas got married. Kölge later hogtied, interrogated, and tortured the couple in the basement of a home in Gaziantep before strangling them to death. The ruling further recorded that Kölge, concerned that Karaaslan’s older brother Mehmet Ali and cousin Hamza, both of whom knew about this incident, may go to the police, called the two men to the basement of the same home, where he had them strangled to death. He buried the corpses of Salih, Mehmet Ali, and Hamza in the basement and poured concrete over the spot where they were buried. Giving the justification that her corpse was namahrem,  Kölge buried the corpse on the side of a road in Kahramanmaraş. The court noted that Kölge had shown the locations of the corpses.

Kölge later filed an appeal, and the court found that according to the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, because the case had not been concluded in a reasonable time and a military judge had been on the committee in the process of the trial, Kölge’s right to a fair trial had been violated, and Kölge was discharged in the context of a new trial. While the dates of Kölge’s conviction and appeal are unclear, Murat Bakan, member of parliament representing İzmir for the opposition CHP, recently said in parliament that in 2018, the Constitutional Court in Turkey had ruled that a military judge being found on a judicial committee was cause for retrial. For this reason, and the timing of his release in 2019, it is possible that Kölge’s appeal happened sometime in 2018.

On May 6, 2022, Turkish news outlet Tele1.com reported that from January to April of 2019, around the same time that Kölge was released, the government had released another 31 Hizbullah members, 19 of whom were connected to the same 91 killings and all of whom had been given aggravated life sentences. The Diyarbakır criminal court had charged these 19 men separately in 2007 with “establishing an Islamic state on the Iranian model by means of qualitatively grave actions directed at overturning the constitutional order.” In 2010, the high court approved the aggravated life sentences, calling attention to how the evidence was handled in accordance with the law and how in the examination of the file as a whole, it had found no irregularities in the conviction rulings. It further found that those sentenced had applied a strategy of “teblig (propaganda), congregation (forming a structured organization), and jihad (armed terror)” to constitute the armed wing of the organization, and, having attacked with meat cleavers and firearms those whom they viewed as being against Hizbullah, were personally responsible for their 91 deaths. The men said that they had been forced to commit these murders because they could not stand the torture that they had undergone during long detainments.

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A photo of a document showing a portion of the organizational structure of the branch of Hizbullah under Kölge’s direction.

On May 13, 2022, T24.com reported that the government had released from prison three more Hizbullah members responsible for 48 operations in which they had killed 28 people, wounded 14, kidnapped one, and torched four vehicles. The court detailed the evidence of the murders that the three men, Bilal Soytaş, Sadun Çiğdem and Fırat Nart, had committed in a 780-page document, convicted them on the charge of “tearing down the constitutional order by force of arms,” and given them aggravated life sentences.

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MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: Eine neue Operation in Syrien?- MARC PIERINI

Die Türkei hat unerledigte Aufgaben, wenn es darum geht, kurdische Kräfte südlich ihrer Grenze zu bekämpfen.

  1. Juni 2022 CARENEGIE MIDDLE EAST CENTER  Die Türkei hat zwischen 2016 und 2020 vier Militäroperationen entlang ihrer Grenze zu Syrien durchgeführt. Am 26. Mai wurde die Ankündigung von Präsident Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, dass die Türkei eine neue Operation in Nordsyrien durchführen werde, vom türkischen Nationalen Sicherheitsrat gebilligt, um “ihre südlichen Grenzen von der Bedrohung durch den Terrorismus zu befreien”. Türkisches Artilleriefeuer in der Region ist seit Anfang Juni registriert, während Russland die Militärpatrouillen in den von ihm kontrollierten Teilen Nordsyriens intensiviert hat. Warum sollte die Türkei jetzt eine solche neue Operation starten?

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MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: TURKEY HAS LONG BEEN AN IMPORTANT SUPPORT BASE FOR ISLAMIC STATE 

Bottom Line Up Front: THE SOUFAN CENTER  7.6.22
  • Late last week, Turkey announced the capture of a high-ranking member of Islamic State (IS) in Istanbul, initially believed to be the new leader, though that is now uncertain.
  • Since its rise in 2014, IS financiers and logisticians have cultivated and maintained robust support networks throughout Turkey, but now, it seems that senior leadership is active there, as well.
  • If it does turn out to Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi that was arrested, it would indeed be significant, especially as the new IS leader has engineered major changes within the broader global enterprise.
  • Turkey offers terrorist groups many advantages, given the country’s connections to the licit financial system, its modern communications and transportation infrastructure, and its role as an international and regional hub.
Late last week, Turkey (or Türkiye) announced the capture of a high-ranking member of Islamic State (IS) in Istanbul. Some initially believed the captured individual to be the group’s new emir, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, while others believe it was Haji Zaid al-Sumaida’i, part of the shura committee under Islamic State’s previous leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who was killed after a U.S. special forces raid in early February. Although there remains uncertainty surrounding the true identity of this individual, the arrest indicated that high-ranking IS officials felt comfortable enough to operate in Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city. Many are now wondering why the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not doing more to root out IS militants, including its top leadership, from cities, towns, and villages across the country. For the most part, Turkey’s security services are focused on the threat posed by Kurdish militant groups operating in the eastern border region. Government bandwidth in Turkey is no doubt stretched, as the country struggles to control inflation along with rising food and energy costs; Ankara has the additional responsibility of caring for the more than 3 million refugees currently seeking shelter there.

The arrest came as the result of an extensive surveillance operation conducted by Turkish security services and could end up being an intelligence boon once the individual in custody is interrogated. Whether or not Turkey allows allies to have direct access to the detainee or information resulting from questioning will likely be the subject of intense closed door negotiations. This high profile capture also suggests that IS feels comfortable operating not just in eastern Turkey, but throughout the country. Since its rise in 2014, IS financiers and logisticians have cultivated and maintained robust support networks throughout Turkey, but now, it seems like senior leadership is active there, as well. Erdogan has been criticized for years for taking a passive approach to combating IS in Turkey, with some suggesting that he is fearful of antagonizing the militants, who have demonstrated both a willingness and capability to launch strikes on Turkish soil. A devastating terror attack at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2017 was claimed by IS; 39 civilians were killed and another 79 were injured in the attack. Perceptions of Turkish inaction or indifference to the presence of IS members in its country has been a long-time source of consternation for its allies. For years, the so-called “jihadi highway” ran through Turkey into Syria and Iraq, where tens of thousands of foreign fighters from around the world flooded into the conflict zone to join the ranks of jihadist groups such as IS and Jabhat al-Nusra. However, tensions remain, as many Western states continue to rely on Kurdish partners in northeastern Syria to manage thousands of IS-associated detainees and their families in camps throughout the region, with little evidence of effective accountability mechanisms or repatriation options to address the humanitarian and security challenges in the camps.

If it does turn out to be Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi that was arrested, it would indeed be significant. After all, the new IS leader was motivated to make changes within the broader IS global enterprise. The recent organizational modifications—breaking out new franchise groups in the Sahel and Mozambique—demonstrate that al-Qurayshi was attempting to implement shifts within the group designed to take advantage of power vacuums, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. As the group’s center of gravity shifts from the Levant to Africa and South Asia, where Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) is mounting increasing attacks, IS globally is at an inflection point. Leadership still matters, so if al-Qurayshi has been captured, it could prove especially damaging, particularly considering the apparent need for IS leaders to focus on operational security instead of external operations. However, with the attention of many Western states on the war in Ukraine and the increasing competition between the U.S. and China, attention to counterterrorism, including addressing the evolution of groups like IS and al-Qaeda to more regionally- and locally- focused affiliates, remains limited.

A country like Turkey is a double-edged sword for groups like IS. On the one hand, Turkey has capable security forces, as demonstrated by what was a lengthy covert surveillance operation to capture the IS senior leader. On the other hand, unlike Afghanistan, which is geographically isolated and underdeveloped, Turkey can serve as a financial and logistical node for terrorists, given the country’s connections to the licit financial system and its modern communications and transportation infrastructure. These features make Turkey an attractive sanctuary for the operational support activities required to plan and execute high profile terrorist attacks. Moreover, given the dire state of Turkey’s economy, there is likely no shortage of well-connected facilitators willing to put bulk cash to work in front companies or other money laundering schemes.

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MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: TİHV: ERDOGAN/TURKEY – 221 years of imprisonment for rights advocates in four months

The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV/HRFT) has released an information note about repression and obstacles faced by human rights defenders in Turkey 6-6-22

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MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: HEY NATO ! SELL THE KURDS I ´WILL BE WITH YOUR : ERDOGAN!

Erdogan: Sweden, Finland need to ‘act accordingly’ toward Kurdish groups for approval on NATO bids AL MONITOR  4.6.22

Erdogan: Turkey will ‘cleanse’ Syrian towns of terrorists 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week announced “a new phase” of military operations to create a 19-mile “safe zone” into Syria “to cleanse Tal Rifaat and Manbij of terrorists.”

And he may not stop there, adding that “we will do the same to other regions step by step.”

Syrian Kurdish groups aligned with the United States, which Turkey considers terrorists, operate in both towns.

“Though the president has mentioned Ankara’s plans to form a safe zone alongside the Syrian border before, this is the first time he has explicitly included Manbij and Tal Rifaat in Turkey’s new operation and openly stated Ankara’s intention to expand to other regions,” writes Nazlan Ertan. “The Turkish president is putting an old plan back on the table amid what he considers more favorable conditions with the war in Ukraine and Turkey’s veto power over the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO.”

So far, the US-led coalition has seen little troop movement on the Turkish side that would indicate an imminent incursion, two sources briefed on the matter told Jared Szuba for Al-Monitor’s Security Briefing newsletter.

There is still speculation that Turkey may be holding off until after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visits Turkey on June 8, and likely won’t launch an operation, if it eventually decides to do so, until after the NATO summit on June 28.

NATO bids by Sweden, Finland linked to changes on Kurds 

Although the Biden administration may be seeking to keep down the temperature in its response to Erdogan’s hard line, the Turkish president is not letting up on his position.

To the contrary. Speaking to Justice and Development Party leaders on June 1, Erdogan dug in his opposition to NATO bids by Sweden and Finland until they “act accordingly” with respect to Turkey’s concerns.

He said that on the same day the Swedish and Finnish delegations were in Turkey for negotiations, “the Swedish state TV aired an interview with Salih Muslim [co-chairman of the Syrian Democratic Union, PYD]. What kind of sincerity is that? Those, who play with letters and try to conceal and legitimize the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] by changing its name into PYD, YPG [People’s Protection Units] or other acronyms are fooling themselves, not us.”

Erdogan considers the PYD and YPG, which make up the bulk of the US-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as indistinguishable from the PKK, which both Turkey and the US have designated as a terrorist group.

Erdogan added, “We have declared right away and in a clear manner that we are against their NATO membership because of their support to the PKK terrorist organization and its extension organizations. Those, who try to present the most bloodthirsty terrorist organization in the world as a disciple of democracy, are, in our eyes, aligned with the murderers of our babies, women, elder citizens, teachers and security forces, who were killed by the PKK.”

The Turkish president’s only slight nod to diplomacy came at the end of his remarks, when he said, “We hope these two countries and those who work vigorously for their membership understand Turkey’s security concerns and act accordingly. In that case, we as a country that have duly fulfilled its responsibilities within NATO so far will do our part.”

Stoltenberg: ‘No other NATO ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Turkey’ 

The US and NATO plan to keep their reservations about Turkish military actions in Syria separate from smoothing over differences which would allow Sweden and Finland to join NATO, as Al-Monitor reports here.

“These are separate questions,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded when asked about the connection between a potential fighter jet sales to Turkey and Ankara’s demands over Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, appearing at the same press conference with Blinken, said that “concerns that Turkey has raised directly with Finland and Sweden are being addressed by the Finns and the Swedes with the assistance of NATO. We want to make sure that all Allies have their security concerns taken into account, and that, of course, includes Turkey, but I’m confident this process will move forward.”

While the US has stayed back from direct mediation in the matter, Stoltenberg has stepped up.

“No other NATO ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Turkey,” Stoltenberg said. “Turkey is an important ally, not least because of its strategic geographic location bordering Iraq and Syria … and also a Black Sea country close to Russia.” He added, “When they raise concerns, of course we sit down and we look into how we can find a united way forward.”

Erdogan weighs the consequences 

If launching a military operation east of the Euphrates, “Turkey has to take both the United States and Russia into account,” writes Fehim Tastekin. “But in Tel Rifaat and Manbij to the west of the river, the United States might turn a blind eye to Turkish maneuvers.”

Blinken said on June 1 that the US would oppose any Turkish military escalation in Syria and respect existing ceasefire lines and not undermine regional stability, especially the fight against Islamic State.

The next day, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement that “We hope that Ankara will refrain from actions that could lead to a dangerous deterioration of the already difficult situation in Syria,” but added that “such a move, in the absence of the agreement of the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic, would be a direct violation of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“For Erdogan, Tel Rifaat is a target promising a number of practical gains. It is a convenient position to keep northern Aleppo under pressure,” writes Tastekin.  “At present, YPG control of the area cuts off the connection between the rebel forces in northern Aleppo and Idlib. By seizing Tel Rifaat, Turkey would be able to block fully the YPG’s access to Afrin, keep Syrian government forces in northern Aleppo under pressure and pave the way for cooperation between rebel groups in the Aleppo countryside and Idlib.”

“The conjuncture has domestic aspects as well,” adds Tastekin. “Under growing pressure over Turkey’s hosting of millions of Syrian refugees, Erdogan is drawing a link between the incursion plan and the goal of repatriating the refugees, while diluting the public’s focus on the country’s deepening economic woes. To drum up popular support, he argues that a military operation would provide a safe space for refugees to return.”

 

MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: ALLE EINIG MIT ERDOGAN GEGEN KURDEN !

PKK: „Die gesamte Opposition steht hinter Erdoğan“

Marion Sendker: „Ein Großteil der Bevölkerung und fast die gesamte politische Opposition stehen hinter Erdoğan. Bei fast keinem anderen Thema sind sich Türken und Türkinnen so einig, wie bei der PKK”. NEX24 Jun 4, 2022Ein Gastbeitrag von Nabi Yücel

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MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: ERDOGAN IST KEIN VOGEL ! – „Turkiye“ statt „Turkey“ : Erdogan will den Truthahn loswerden

FAZ 1.6.2022- Der türkische Staatspräsident Erdogan will erreichen, dass sein Land im diplomatischen Sprachgebrauch auf Englisch einen neuen Namen erhält. Die jetzige Bezeichnung erinnere zu sehr an einen großen Vogel

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MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: Streit um PKK:Türkei bestellt Botschafter Deutschlands +Frankreichs ein

Die türkische Regierung hat den deutschen und den französischen Botschafter zum Rapport gebeten. Grund sind Veranstaltungen der verbotenen kurdischen Arbeiterpartei PKK.

  1. Mai 2022, : ZEIT ONLINE, Protest gegen Veranstaltungen der verbotenen kurdischen Arbeiterpartei PKKin Deutschland und Frankreich hat die Türkeidie Botschafter beider Länder einbestellt. Diese seien über den Unmut der Türkei wegen der Veranstaltungen informiert worden, teilte der türkische Außenminister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu mit.

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MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: Zustimmung nur gegen Auslieferungen – So erpresst die Türkei den Westen im Nato-Streit

Für die Zustimmung zur Nato-Erweiterung fordert die Türkei von Schweden die Auslieferung von angeblichen Terroristen. Zum Beispiel von Ragip Zarakolu. SUSANNE GÜSTEN Tagesspiegel  29.5.22

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MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: Erdogan-Politiker: Skandinavier „auf Knien“ – Zeitungs-Eklat schlägt Wellen bis zu Schwedens Außenministerin

MERKUR  28.5.22 – Schweden &Finnland: Verhindert Türkei den NATO-Beitritt?

Erdogan will den Nato-Beitritt Finnlands und Schwedens blockieren. In der türkischen Opposition sind die Meinungen geteilt – ein Medien-Eklat schlägt indes hohe Wellen.

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