Turkey’s Alleged Role in the Kidnapping of Syrian Bishops
On April 22 2013, Bishops Yuhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazici were kidnapped in Syria. During the kidnapping their driver was murdered.
According to a story by Dikran Ego for the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), a fourth person in the car, Fuad Eliya, was released, reports Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service.
Ibrahim belongs to the Syriac Orthodox Church and was considered the strongest candidate to succeed the current Patriarch. Yazici is part of the Greek Orthodox Church, and the brother of the current patriarch.
The bishops left the Turkish border on April 22, heading towards Aleppo. In the silver colored Kia Sorrento was also Fuad Eliya and Ibrahim's driver, Fathallah Kabud. Yazici was on his way home to Aleppo after an overseas trip.
To get home safely to Syria he asked Ibrahim to pick him up at the Bab El-Hawa border crossing. Twenty kilometers from the border crossing the car stopped at a checkpoint controlled by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and passed through safely. About two kilometers from this checkpoint, at 3:45 PM, the car was stopped by eight heavily armed men.
According to Eliya, the only survivor of the kidnapping, the perpetrators were not Syrians, but seemed to be people who came from Caucasus. Their clothing was similar to that worn by the Taliban.
AINA said one of the kidnappers forced the driver out of the car and got behind the wheel, another armed man sat in the backseat of the car, and they drove behind the kidnappers' blue truck. The cars changed direction and drove back to Bab El-Hawa, where the bishops were last seen.
The Chaos In Syria and Turkey's Role In The Conflict
Since the war broke out in Syria, AINA said, Turkey has played an active role in the conflict. The Syrian opposition's headquarters are in Istanbul. The FSA runs its operations virtually from refugee camps in Turkey that are placed along the Syrian border.
Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have supported and financed the Syrian opposition, helping with logistics and weapons.
But Turkey has played an ever more active role, and successively increased weapons deliveries to the opposition. Even the more radical groups, such as Al-Nusra and many more which are associated with Al-Qaeda, have received weapons from Turkey.
The chaos in Syria has attracted jihadist groups from many countries in the region. The 900 kilometer border between Turkey and Syria has become a gateway to Syria for jihadists.
Russia has supported the regime in the Syrian civil war. Russia's support has evoked reactions from Muslims in the Caucasus region, which have been drawn to the Jihad in Syria.
AINA said jihadists from the Caucasus have two reasons to engage in the “holy war” in Syria; to help their Sunni co-religionists and to exact revenge on Russia, which according to the jihadists has been oppressing them in the Caucasus.
But these jihadist groups have rarely participated in any real battles. Instead “they prefer to amuse themselves by plundering and murdering innocent civilians.” Often they commit war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The “holy war” has united many extremists from Chechnya, Dagestan, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the Balkans and many other Muslim countries. They have been able to move freely inside Turkey along the Syrian border.
It has been generally known that Turkey has helped these extremists with weapon and logistics.
But in the last few months, AINA said, “Turkey has been caught red-handed several times.” Turkish media that “slipped past” Turkish state censorship reported a number of concerning incidences.
As a result of Turkey's involvement and to the active support for the extremist groups, eleven Syrian civil opposition organizations decided to take Turkey to the court for Human Rights in Europe.
The Caucasus “Holy War” in Syria
The extremist group which consists of many different ethnicities from the Caucasus was founded in 2006 under the name “Caucasus Emirate” during the Chechen war against Russia. This Caucasian mobilization is now also in Syria. “The terrorists from the Caucasus excel in their brutality,” AINA commented.
Abu Omar the Chechen, who founded the Hattab brigade very quickly made a name for himself. Several small groups that came from the Caucasus announced their allegiance to Abu Omar.
In Syria these groups were called the “Turkish Brothers.”
The Caucasus Emirate has at various times been allied with the Free Syrian Army and Al Qaeda. Recently the group has joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Jihadist groups which are terrorizing the population of Syria along the Turkish border are well known to Turkey. These jihadists are provided with weapons and communications equipment such as walkie-talkies by the Turkish secret service MIT.
One of these jihadist groups is lead by Abu Amer el-Kuwaiti, who controls his operations in the Aleppo area from the Turkish border city of Antakya. Abu Amer el-Kuwaiti is assisted by a person from Dagestan by the name of Magomed Abdurrakhmanov, who uses the code name Abu Banat (in Turkish Ebu Benat). It is this individual who is suspected of kidnapping the bishops.
During the summer of 2013 a video clip appeared on YouTube showing a person cutting off the heads of three men. People in the video, including the killer, speak Russian. There is also a Turkish voice that says “sit down, sit down,” so there is a clear view of the slaughter. The person performing the decapitation in the video is Magomed Abdulrakhmanov, a.k.a. Abu Banat.
The brutal slaughter angered people worldwide. When these pictures appeared in the media there was speculation about who this man is. Information about Abu Banat's real identity appeared on several Russian websites and forums. When his identity was disclosed it was learned that he was a police officer in Dagestan “who had found his way to jihad in Syria.”
In the beginning of 2013, Abu Banat's group established itself close to the village El-Meshed, which is only five kilometers away from the border crossing at Bab El-Hawa. He married a woman from the village of El-Meshed.
AINA said he terrorized the villagers and murdered a villager to set an example. He instituted harsh Sharia laws, such as cutting off a finger for those caught smoking and punishing those who drink alcohol. News of about Abu Banat's brutality spread. His group engaged in raids and terrorized the surrounding areas.
News of the group's raids and brutality reached the Free Syrian Army, which sent a group of soldiers to investigate.
The FSA claims the group never participated in the war against the Syrian regime but devoted itself exclusively to looting. A battle occurred between the FSA and Abu Banat's group which resulted in the group’s dissolution.
Abu Banat Detained in Istanbul
On April 23 2013, the police stopped a car outside the city of Konya. In the car they found a Syrian woman and three other persons of Chechen origin. All were missing valid ID documents.
The Turkish magazine Radikal reported this event with the headline “Orthodox Bishops' murderer arrested in Konya.” The magazine also wrote that because these persons did not have valid ID documents they were deported to their home countries.
AINA wrote, “But that was not so. The police released all of them after they received a residential address in a suburb of Istanbul where the group lives.”
With the memory of the brutal decapitation video fresh in his mind, one of the police officers recognized one of the persons in the car. He reported to the police in Istanbul about his suspicions of the group.
A local magazine in Konya intercepted the police report and the news spread throughout Turkey. Several magazines wrote that the bishops' murderer had been arrested in Konya.
When the police searched the house, they found weapons and grenades. The group was arrested for violation of the Arms Act and preparation for terrorist attacks. The group has been in police custody since the summer of 2013, in the Maltepe prison in Istanbul.
When the news about the group suspected of kidnapping of the bishops spread, the authorities stated the group had been deported.
However, AINA said, that raises questions. “Why was this stated when in reality the persons were in police custody in Istanbul? The answer was discovered after access to the police investigation report was gained.”
According to the report, Abu Banat is known to the Turkish secret service MIT, members of which have supplied him with equipment.
The Turkish Government's Handling of the Events
When the news about the arrest of the suspected murderer of the bishops spread in Turkey, Bishop Yusuf Cetin of the Syriac Orthodox Church contacted the Turkish government.
Secretary of State Ahmet Davutoglu had on several occasions commented on the kidnapping.
In a meeting with Syriac Orthodox Church Bishops, Davutoglu said that he had received intelligence reports the bishops were still alive and that Turkey is doing everything to save them.
Secretary of State Davutoglu had given the impression that they have knowledge of who the kidnappers are. Prime Minister Erdogan also made similar statements when he visited Stockholm and met Assyrian representatives in the early part of Nov. 2013.
As late as Christmas 2013, the former Turkish Attorney General Sadullah Ergin said to the Greek Orthodox Church in Hatay the government was working on saving the bishops.
These and many other statements were been given by Turkish officials despite the fact that the Bishops' suspected murderer was in police custody in Istanbul.
AINA commented, “All indications point to the fact that Turkey had a hand in the bishops' kidnapping, and has therefore done everything to hide the truth about the suspected murderer.”
On Sept. 29 2013, investigative journalist Erkan Metin published an article on www.suryaniler.com.
During his investigation, Metin discovered that Abu Banat's is Magomed Abdurkhmanov from Dagestan and that he might be in custody. Metin contacted the police and confirmed that they were holding a person named Magomed Abdurakhmanov -- contrary to press and government reports that he and his group had been deported. Abu Banat's group was in police custody at the Meltepe prison in Istanbul.
Upon further investigation Metin discovered a link between Abu Banat's group and the kidnapping of the Bishops.
A website (www.kavkazcenter.com) that belongs to the "Caucasus Emirate" featured on July 3, 2013 the headline “Russian Footsteps in Syria,” and claimed that it was the group led by Abu Banat that was behind the kidnapping of the bishops.
AINA said the website also stated that Abu Banat is a Russian agent. The website said that according to its sources in Syria, the bishops had been killed by an explosive belt strapped to their backs, a method often used by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But why would Abu Banat, a member of the Caucasus Emirate, be disavowed by being identified as a Russian agent?
According to Metin, the video of the decapitation on YouTube was the breaking point. The Caucasus Emirate wanted to distance itself from a group that had drawn negative attention to itself. This was also confirmed by the Turkish police interrogation of Abu Banat about the decapitation.
According to the transcript of the hearing, published officially in Dec. 2013, Abu Banat said, “It was I who decapitated these three persons. It was the first time I had decapitated a human. But I don't understand why these came up on the Internet. It was something we did every Friday after we sentenced people in the Sharia court. I executed the punishment by decapitation.”
When the report of the investigation of Abu Banat's group was released publicly the results of of Erkan Metin's investigation were corroborated -- that the group was responsible for the kidnapping of the bishops.
Questions to Prime Minister Erdogan
Erol Dora, an Assyrian member of the Turkish Parliament and also a lawyer, submitted a written question to Prime Minister Erdogan about Turkey's involvement in the kidnapping of the Bishops and the country's relationship to the suspected killer.
Erol Dora also asked Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag why the ministry refused to try a person who had admitted that he decapitated people in Syria. According to Dora, the Turkish constitution says such crimes do not necessarily have to occur in Turkey for the perpetrator to be tried.
AINA said Turkey is supporting the Syrian opposition, allowing jihadists to pass through its territory to Syria.
“Evidence strongly indicates that Turkey knew about the jihadist group lead by Abu Banat, and this group had kidnapped the Bishops. The Turkish secret service, MIT, were in contact with this group and supplied the group with equipment.”
For more information about the Assyrian International News Agency, visit www.aina.org