Three big burdens on the Turkish police
I was talking to a ranking official about the escape of Abdulgadir Masharipov, the Tajik-origin Uzbek citizen who is wanted for killing 39 people on Jan. 1 in Istanbul’s Reina nightclub on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), or DEASH in Arabic.
“We have problems,” the official said with obvious embarrassment. “We have still not been able to cope with the fact that the killer who assassinated the ambassador was a member of the Turkish police force.” The official, who asked to remain unanimous, was talking about the murder of Russian Ambassador to Ankara Andrey Karlov on Dec. 19, 2016, as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was literally on his way to Moscow for a key meeting on Syria.
The killer, who was killed afterwards in a clash with his colleagues, was Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a police officer working for the police department which is in charge of protecting VIP targets against terrorists. Nobody claimed responsibility for the assassination, but the indications showed that all of the young policeman’s social environment and education background was linked to the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen. An Islamist preacher living in the U.S., Gülen is accused of masterminding the foiled coup of July 15, 2016, in Turkey.
Upon a demand by Russian President Vladimir Putin from Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, a Russian team of security experts have come to Turkey to solve the Karlov assassination, with no results made public so far.
It was interesting, though, that the ranking official, when asked about the Reina attack by ISIL, answered the question with a reference to the Russian’s ambassador’s assassination in Ankara.
Perhaps it was because the official thought that both incidents partly occurred because of the problematic situation the Turkish police and the security apparatus has found itself after the July 15 coup attempt.
For example, it is now clear from the investigation reports that when the police squads intervened after the Reina attack, about three to five minutes later, the attacker was still around yet managed to extricate himself from the crime scene without much difficulty.
Citing police sources, daily Hürriyet reported last week that, right after the attack, Masharipov went to another district of Istanbul, Zeytinburnu, to see his family, took his 4-year-old son with him and disappeared. There are reports that the family had spent some time in Syria’s ISIL-controlled region before coming to Turkey as immigrants.
Besides the cases of the Karlov assassination and the Reina raid, there is another big problem for the Turkish security apparatus: The case of Adil Öksüz.
Öksüz, a theology professor from Sakarya University, western Turkey, was detained at Ankara’s Akıncı Air Base, which was the operation center of the military coup attempt, in the early hours of July 16 after the collapse of the attempt which had started nine hours before. He is accused of being the “Air Force Imam” or the political commissar on behalf of the Gülenist network, or the “Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ)” as the indictments say, one of very few people who have been conveying Gülen’s orders in Pennsylvania to the network in Turkey. He was taken to the nearby gendarmerie station among other soldiers and civilians but released by the judge there.
Claimed to be one of the key figures of the coup attempt, Öksüz is still on the run, with no explanation from the Interior Ministry (who is in charge of both the police and the gendarmerie) so far. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ told reporters last week that he believed Öksüz was “hidden by certain people” without elaborating who they might be. Pointing to reports that U.S. courts might consider Turkey’s demand to extradite Gülen, a statement from Öksüz about getting orders from him would help, but senior journalist Fehmi Koru says it is not easy to explain how the whereabouts of Öksüz have not been found so far despite the current technological capabilities at hand.
It’s not only the police, as the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) also has a share in it, but it is mainly the responsibility of the Interior Ministry to solve the three important cases, which are otherwise affecting the reputation of the Turkish government.
The responsibilities of the interior minister are already very heavy with the ongoing fight against ISIL and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) acts of terror, plus the security issues regarding a possible referendum, but those three burdens are no less important.