The number two in an al-Qaeda-linked Turkish jihadist group who was convicted and served time in the past continues to preach freely in Turkey while endorsing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who he says is committed to the realization of the terrorist group's ultimate objective.
Saadettin Ustaosmanoğlu, a militant cleric, was a senior figure in a radical Islamist organization called the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front (İslami Büyükdoğu Akıncılar Cephesi in Turkish, IBDA/C), an organization that is listed as terrorist entity by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. In a criminal indictment he was the second suspect after Salih İzzet Erdiş (aka Salih Mirzabeyoğlu or Commandant), the late leader of the IBDA/C who was tried, convicted and imprisoned on terrorism charges.
Ustaosmanoğlu currently runs an IBDA/C magazine called Furkan with an editorial stance that supports the Erdoğan government while preaching freely and even posting his recorded video messages on YouTube. He is the founder of an association called Kökler (Roots), through which he has been appealing to the younger generation and recruits militants to IBDA/C ideology.
As part of the nationwide crackdown on the IBDA/C in the late 1990s, Ustaosmanoğlu was detained on December 30, 1998 and formally arrested at arraignment on January 4, 1999. Police found IBDA/C banners, publications and other printed materials for the organization in his home.
When the police captured IBDA/C leader Erdiş in 1999 while he was traveling in his Volvo, police found a large amount of cash in the car –25,000 Deutsche marks, 10,000 US dollars and 800 French francs — suggesting that he was going underground. Police also seized two handguns, one 22 caliber rifle with a scope, one pump action rifle and one air gun in Erdiş's house during the search.
In his police statement Ustaosmanoğlu struck a defiant tone and admitted that he and others in the organization wanted to destroy the secular and democratic governance in Turkey and establish a new state based on religious rule. The IBDA/C's ultimate goal is to replace Turkey with what it called the Great Eastern Islamic State that would be based in Turkey but also include other countries in the Middle East.
The IBDA/C believes Erdoğan publicly endorsed their end goal when he talked about a "great eastern state" in a speech on September 24, 2013. Making frequent references to the writings of Islamist poet and author Necip Fazıl Kısakurek, a figure revered by IBDA/C militants, Erdoğan said:
"As master Necip Fazıl explained throughout his life and with the way he lived, we will trust ourselves first and then each other, and together we will build the Great East with 76 million. Remember, the light rises from the East. Your head will never bow down... You will not be afraid, you will not be reserved, you will not hesitate, you will not be ashamed of your beliefs, your values, you will never stand back."
Ustaosmanoğlu emphasized Erdoğan's "Great East" remarks in this speech as proof of the Turkish president's commitment to the IBDA/C's objective. In Furkan's November-December 2016 issue, Ustaosmanoğlu published Erdoğan's photo on the cover and wrote as editor-in-chief that the Turkish president was left alone in his fight and that his advisors failed to understand Erdiş's views and the IBDA/C vision.
Erdiş established the organization in 1985 and turned it into a deadly terrorist group, with dozens of attacks between 1990 and 1998, according to the indictment. The group attacked Armenian, Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches as well as synagogues and America colleges in Turkey with bombs and Molotov cocktails. They specifically targeted banks, stores that sell alcoholic beverages, fashion designer shops, political party buildings, newspapers and associations that were opposed to the IBDA/C ideology.
On February 4, 2001 the Bakırköy 3rd High Criminal Court convicted Erdiş on multiple charges and sentenced him to death, but his sentence was turned into life imprisonment in 2004 after Turkey abolished the death penalty. Ustaosmanoğlu was convicted of IBDA/C membership on April 2, 2001, and the judges sentenced him to 18 years in prison. The convictions were upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals on April 18, 2002.
As a result of revisions made by the Erdoğan government to the penal code, Ustaosmanoğlu's sentence was halved in 2008 in a ruling by the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court.
However, on July 22, 2014 the Erdoğan government secured the release of Erdiş, by ordering a retrial. Judges Canel Rüzgar, Cem Karaca and Mehmet Çelik, handpicked for the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court by Erdoğan, acquitted the IBDA-C leader of all charges in a hastily arranged, rushed retrial on March 2, 2016. In the same trial Ustaosmanoğlu was also acquitted of all charges. Prosecutor Ali Kaya, who opposed the acquittals, was quickly removed from his position by the government.
In a 2015 interview Ustaosmanoğlu revealed that President Erdoğan was the person who got Erdiş out of prison. He accused the Gülen movement, a group that is staunchly opposed to jihadists and critical of the Erdoğan government, of imprisoning Erdiş in 1999. In the Furkan magazine Ustaosmanoğlu fiercely criticized Fethullah Gülen in cover stories, lambasting the Turkish Muslim scholar for promoting interfaith dialogue and meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1998. The same criticism was also publicly raised by Erdoğan himself against Gülen in 2015 and 2016, when the president questioned why Gülen met with the pope and said there can never dialogue between Islam and other religions.
Nordic Monitor previously published a 2009 confidential police intelligence report which showed that the police department had conducted 17 planned intelligence sweeps against the IBDA/C, resulting in the criminal prosecution of its militants. As of August 2009 the police had detained 1,186 IBDA-C militants in total, seizing 146 various caliber guns, 80 hand grenades and explosives components. A total of 219 terrorist acts perpetrated by IBDA-C militants were solved, and 28 terror plots in the planning stages were thwarted by the police.
The IBDA-C also claimed responsibility for a range of terrorist acts in Turkey, including what authorities said was a joint plot with al-Qaeda in carrying out the 2003 bombings in İstanbul of two synagogues, an HSBC bank branch and the British Consulate General, and a 2008 attack on the US Consulate General in İstanbul. The attacks killed dozens of people.
IBDA/C publications openly praise late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and promote him as martyr who stood up against imperialists. IBDA/C leader Erdiş described him as "a man who struck the US in the heart."
According to the 1999 indictment, the long list of bombing attacks the group executed between 1994 and 1997 is as follows:
- January 1, 1994: A bomb was planted at an ATM at Türkiye İş Bank in Şanlıurfa province, injuring a person upon detonation.
- January 16, 1994: An explosive device was thrown at a Vakıf Bank branch in the Nizip district of Gaziantep province.
- January 16, 1994: The bombing of a kiosk that sold alcoholic beverages in Gaziantep province.
- January 16, 1994: An attack with an explosive device against media distribution company Hürpa Birleşik Basım ve Dağıtım A.Ş. in Gaziantep province.
- January 19, 1994: Bombs were planted at multiple locations in Istanbul: a McDonald's branch in Kadıköy; a party building of the center-left Social Democratic People's Party (SHP); the Barcan restaurant in the same district; in the courtyard of the Beyazıt Mosque in Eminönü; in the headquarters of the Istanbul water works authority, İSKİ; a courthouse in Fatih; and the Istanbul University faculty of literature building.
- February 1, 1994: Bombs were placed in branches of Ziraat Bank, İş Bank, Emlak Bank and Vakıf Bank as well as at tourist hotel Kaleli in the downtown area of Gaziantep.
- February 19, 1994: The throwing of a Molotov cocktail at an ATM belonging to Pamukbank in Istanbul.
- March 15, 1994: Four people were killed and 15 injured in a fire caused by a Molotov cocktail that was thrown at a pub in Istanbul.
- March 24, 1994: Bombs were placed at the Association of Contemporary Journalists' building, a store selling alcohol and tobacco and the SHP building in Bursa province.
- April 4, 1994: A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a pub in Istanbul's Kağıthane district.
- April 12, 1994: The bombing of a Pamukbank ATM in Gaziantep.
- April 21, 1994: A stun grenade was thrown at a kiosk in Gaziantep.
- May 9, 1994: A person was injured when an explosive device was left under the bench in front of a street vendor that was selling books in Ankara's Kızılay district.
- May 28, 1994: The planting of a bomb in front of the the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate building in Istanbul.
- May 19, 1994: The bombings of Santa Maria Catholic Church and the St. Anthony Catholic Church in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul.
- June 22, 1994: The bombing of a pub in the Bagcilar district of Istanbul.
- August 07, 1994: The bombing of a pub in the Çeliktepe neighborhood of Istanbul
- August 24,1994: The bombing of the Fitaş movie theater in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. Another bomb was planted on a street in the same district.
- August 29, 1994: The bombing of a vehicle parked in front of a fire station in İstanbul's Fatih district.
- September 2, 1994: The bombing of a pub in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul.
- September 8, 1994: The bombing of a Garanti bank branch in Istanbul.
- September 25, 1994: The bombing of an Emlak Bank branch in the Gayrettepe neighborhood of Istanbul.
- September 14, 1994: The bombing of a restaurant in the Bakirkoy district of Istanbul.
- September 17, 1994: The bombing of İktisat Bank and Egebank branches in Istanbul.
- October 8, 1994: The bombing of a Yapı Kredi Bank branch in the Tozkoparan neighborhood of Istanbul.
- October 9, 1994: The bombing of a pub in Istanbul.
- October 31, 1994: A bomb was placed at the door of a house in the Fatih district of Istanbul.
- November 9, 1994: A bomb was dropped on the internal medicine unit of the Istanbul Cerrahpaşa medical faculty, injuring two people.
- November 27, 1994: The bombing of İş Bank in the Yenibosna neighborhood of Istanbul.
- December 25, 1994: The bombing of the Sivaslılar Dayanışma Derneği building in the Bakırkoy district of Istanbul.
- December 29, 1994: The bombing of a boutique in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul.
- January 1, 1995: The bombing of a pub in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul.
- January 3, 1995: The bombing of a vehicle parked in front of the center-right True Path Party (DYP) building in İstanbul's Çağlayan district.
- January 9, 1995: The bombing of the Türk Ticaret Bank branch building in Istanbul's Eminönü district.
- January 10, 1995: The bombing of a National Lottery branch in Istanbul's Eminönü district.
- January 11, 1995: The bombing of a clothing store in the Fatih district of Istanbul
- January 28, 1995: A bomb was planted at the residence of a writer in the Gaziosmanpaşa district of Istanbul.
- February 1, 1995: The bombings of a McDonald's branch and a Pamukbank branch in Istanbul's Merter district.
- February 5, 1995: The bombing of a clothing store in the Fatih district of Istanbul.
- February 8, 1995: The bombing of a fashion clothing store in Merter.
- February 13, 1995: The bombings of pubs in the Güngoren and Bağcılar districts of Istanbul.
- February 16, 1995: The bombings of İmar Bank and Pamukbank branches in the Gaziosmanpaşa district of Istanbul.
- February 17, 1995: The bombing of a clothing store and a newspaper distribution company branch in Fatih; the planting of a stun grenade at a Pamukbank branch in the Gaziosmanpaşa district of Istanbul.
- February 27, 1995: The bombing of a pub and a newspaper branch in the Gaziosmanpaşa district of Istanbul as well as a bomb attack on an association in Ankara that killed an IBDA/C militant.
- March 1, 1995: The bombing of a clothing store in the Fatih district of Istanbul.
- July 7, 1995: An arson attack on the far-right party MHP building in Konya province.
- August 23, 1995: The bombing of a business center in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul.
- October 28, 1995: A Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Teachers' Club in the Karşıyaka district of Izmir province.
- November 16, 1995: A bomb was placed at an İş Bank branch in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul.
- April 12, 1996: A stun grenade was dropped in a garbage can in front of the Court of Accounts building in the Ulus neighborhood of Ankara.
- May 4, 1996: A bomb attack on a building in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul that injured five people.
- July 8, 1996: The bombing of a neo-nationalist association in the Gebze district of Kocaeli province.
- October 16, 1996: An explosive device was thrown into the building of a political party in the Gaziosmanpaşa district of Istanbul.
- October 29, 1996: Multiple bomb attacks in Istanbul that targeted two bank branches and an association.
- November 1, 1996: A bomb attack on a kiosk selling alcoholic beverages in the Eyüp district of Istanbul.
- December 1, 1996: The bombing of an Ashkenazi synagogue in the Karaköy neighborhood of Beyoğlu.
- December 3, 1996: The bombing of a furniture store in Konya province.
- December 17, 1996: A bomb was planted at St. Anthony Catholic Church in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul.
- December 31, 1996: The bombing of a newspaper distribution company's office in the Gaziosmanpaşa district of Istanbul.
- April 4, 1997: The bombing of a market in the Eyüp district of Istanbul.
- March 9, 1997: The bombing of a Turkish Aviation Board (THK) branch in the Bakırköy district of Istanbul.
- April 17, 1997: A bomb was dropped at the entrance of the Surp Yuğya Armenian Church in Eyüp.
- April 18, 1997: The bombing of an ATM in front of the Yapı Kredi Bank in the Eyüp district of Istanbul.
- April 30, 1997: A Molotov cocktail was thrown at the private St. Joseph High School in the Alsancak neighborhood of Izmir.
- May 11, 1997: A Molotov cocktail attack on an American college in Izmir province.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Swedish-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.