A Turkish Jihadi, who was trained in Pakistan by the Tablighi Jamaat, later ended up joining Al-Qaeda in Syria in order to try and raise an Ottoman caliphate army, according to intelligence documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, a non-profit focused on monitoring extremism in Turkey. In spite of being arrested multiple times, the Jihadi constantly managed to get out of prison in Turkey.
The intelligence documents, as reported by Nordic Monitor, show that Halil Kurtuluş (aka Abu Muhammed Ali), a 45-year-old resident of the Turkish city of Bursa, had gone to and fro Turkey and Syria since 2012 in order to fight alongside Islamist jihadist groups including Al-Qaeda and its various offshoots.
The documents further that the Jihadi from Turkey was telling his friends about his communications with Al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, the documents reveal his aspirations of creating a new Islamist Ottoman caliphate army, with the aid of other Islamist Jihadis fighting in Syria.
According to Halil Kurtuluş’s records, he was arrested several times, caught trying to cross the Turkish-Syrian border, wounded in Jihadist clashes, jailed three times, only to be released from prison eventually every single time, so that he could continue his Jihadi activities.
A 2018 statement from Kurtuluş at a Turkish gendarmerie border garrison really reveals the unofficial policy of the Turkish government with regard to proxy Jihadi Syrian groups. Kurtuluş assured the border security guards that Islamist Jihadist groups like al-Nusra and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham harbour no bad intentions towards Turkey when asked if these Islamist Jihadis were deploying fighters, ammunition, and explosives on the Turkish-Syrian border.
Incidentally, the background check run by the Turkish gendarmerie on Kurtuluş revealed that he was captured whilst attempting to enter Syria illegally. However, the database of Turkey’s main intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) did not reveal any information about the Turkish Jihadi, strange considering the fact Kurtuluş had been in and out of prison on al-Qaeda charges before multiple times.
Kurtuluş worked for the Jihadi group Ketibet ul-Taliban, where his role was of a recruiter. He also set up a special unit called the Fedai, meaning fighters willing to sacrifice themselves. Ketibet ul-Taliban worked closely with Islamist terrorist groups like al-Nusra, which was the official branch of al-Qaeda in Syria.
According to the intelligence documents, Kurtuluş attempted to form a new Jihadist group under the name of Cund Hilafiye Osmaniye (Ottoman Caliphate Army). For this, Kurtuluş sought the help of two fellow Turkish nationals, all three of them being from Bursa.
A background check of Kurtuluş’s life history reveals that during his compulsory military service, Kurtuluş attempted to take his own life, which is strictly forbidden in Islam. Upon his discharge from the military, Kurtuluş came under the influence of Tablighi Jamaat teachings in Bursa, attending their teaching circles in 1999. He travelled to Pakistan to get four months of training from the Tablighi Jamaat, as to how to convert people to Islam. He said he left the Tablighi Jamaat in 2007 when he was being prosecuted for his ties to al-Qaeda and spent more than eight months in jail.
Soon after the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, Kurtuluş decided to take part in it. The intelligence documents note that in July 2012, Kurtuluş took a bus from his hometown of Bursa to the Turkish border town Reyahanh in order to cross the border into Syria illegally. He eventually settled down in the Syrian province of Aleppo.
In Syria, the Turkish Jihadi Kurtuluş fought alongside Islamist Jihadist/Terrorist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, the Sultan Murad Brigade, Liva al-Tawheed (the al-Tawhid Brigade), and the Suqour al-Sham Brigades. He joined in the battles against Syrian regime forces of Bashar al-Assad and the Democratic Union Party (PYD)/ Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), according to the documents.
However, just some months later, Kurtuluş suffered a shoulder injury that forced him to return to Turkey from Syria. In 2013, he entered Syria illegally again, this time to fight in the Free Syrian Army. He got into a traffic accident, broke his leg, and was back in Turkey again for treatment. Later, he was picked up in a police sweep looking for al-Qaeda affiliates and ended up spending four months in jail.
In November 2014, Kurtuluş attempted to illegally enter Syria again but failed this time, forcing him to return to Busra, where he was put in detention on charges of membership in the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). After pre-trial detention of four months, he was set free again. After that he made several attempts to cross the border into Syria, all of them failing.
In June of 2017, the Turkish Jihadi Kurtuluş was arrested once again, this time based on alleged ties to the al-Nusra Front and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. In 2018, he tried to make the trip to Syria again but was apprehended by border guards. Even some of Kurtuluş’s friends and family have been accused of terrorism.
Murat Ergüder, the son-in-law of Kurtuluş, was jailed for seven months for al-Qaeda-related terrorism charges. Ergüder went to Syria in order to fight for the Islamist Jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham. Kurtuluş’s stepson, Hasan Huseyin Ekti, also went to fight in Syria in November of 2015. Like his step-father, Ekti has made multiple failed attempts to illegally cross the border into Syria but was ultimately let go.
Halil Kurtuluş is just one of the many Turkish Islamist Jihadis who are implicitly allowed to operate inside Syrian territory close to the Turkish border, whilst the authorities claim to be rounding up and supposedly preventing these networks from forming. His case is an example of how the Turkish justice system allows radicalized Islamists with the full intention to take action, to keep going in and out of prisons, akin to a revolving door.