by Abdullah Bozkurt
The ambassador of China in the Turkish capital of Ankara would be better off by getting additional security in the aftermath of threatening remarks by radical Turkish imam and family cleric of the Turkish president Nureddin Yıldız, whose venomous preaching inspired the al-Qaeda-linked Turkish police to assassinate Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in cold blood in Ankara.
In an interview with Uyghur Istiqlal (Liberty) TV, which broadcasts online from Istanbul, the cleric expressed his full rage and hatred of China, calling the Chinese “a nation of savages even worse than Jews.” He urged Uyghurs to carry out jihadist activity not only in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region but also in other places in order to please God. He pledged to protect Uyghur migrants in Turkey using his connections with the government and vowed to defend them against the wrath of Beijing by orchestrating protest rallies if needed.
Perhaps one can discount this vitriolic narrative if it had come from an ordinary man. But Yıldız is very well connected to Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and he has been an influential figure in promoting this jihadist ideology among millions of youth branches and grassroots organizations of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP). Yıldız has been actively participating with speeches delivered at events organized by the Turkey Youth Foundation (TUGVA), an organization that is effectively managed by Erdogan’s son Bilal and daughter Sümeyye. His speaking engagements across Turkey are supported by the Erdogan government, which instructs officials in local districts to provide necessary accommodations for his comfort.
Yıldız himself is connected to armed jihadist groups fighting to topple the Bashar al-Assad government. Yıldız admitted his connections to jihadist groups in Syria in a letter he wrote right after the leader of Ahrar al-Sham, Hassan Abboud, also known by the nom de guerre Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi, was killed in September 2014 in a suicide attack on a high-level meeting in Syria’s Idlib province. In the letter, dated Sept. 10, 2014, Yıldız recalls how he made a trip to Idlib to meet with Abu Abdullah and how they discussed the jihadist fight against infidels. He described the killing of Abu Abdullah as “a great loss to the cause,” regretting that his invitation to host him in Istanbul had never come to fruition.
No wonder Abdallah Muhammad Bin Sulayman Al-Muhaysini, an Al-Qaeda cleric of Saudi origin who is among the leaders of al-Qaeda group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in Syria, recently urged Turks to read the books of Nureddin Yıldız in a special video message catering to Turks. Al-Muhaysini was leading the Turkey-backed al-Qaeda group Jaish Al-Fateh (Nusrah Front) before he forged an umbrella alliance with other jihadist groups. He was designated a terrorist by the US Treasury. Like Yıldız, Al-Muhaysini also has close links to the Uyghur Turkistan Islamic Party, which has been sending fighters to Syria to fight against the al-Assad regime. Al-Muhaysini praised Erdogan’s government for standing by jihadists in Syria and sided with Turkey in a row between Qatar and other Gulf and Arab states.
Twenty-two-year-old police officer Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, who killed the Russian ambassador on Dec. 19, 2016, frequented sermons delivered by Yıldız in Ankara’s Hacı Bayram district, a short distance from government buildings in the Turkish capital. The neighborhood was featured by The New York Times on Sept. 15, 2014 as a hotspot for recruiting Turkish jihadists for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Fearing the Russian government response, Yıldız disappeared from the scene right after the murder of the Russian envoy and cancelled his speaking engagements before later resurfacing. Erdogan tried to protect him by scapegoating for the hit the Gülen movement, a civic group that is highly critical of Erdogan for corruption in the administration and the Turkish government’s aiding and abetting of radical groups in Syria. Nobody bought Erdogan’s preposterous claim that Fethullah Gülen was behind the hit when the killer publicly displayed his jihadist links right after heinously killing the top Russian diplomat in Turkey. In fact, just four days before the murder took place, Yıldız delivered a speech in the town of İnegöl, whipping up the crowd over the fall of Aleppo to regime forces.
This is not the first time the Erdogan government protected Yıldız from legal troubles, by the way. When Yıldız publicly advocated the marriage of underage girls as young as 6 years old at a conference on Jan. 23, 2013, a criminal complaint was filed against him. But the prosecutor dropped the investigation under Erdogan government pressure in March 2015. Although the investigation into the murder of the Russian diplomat revealed that the assassin had attended Yıldız’s sermons with others and gotten acquainted with his roommate at one of those meetings, the cleric was spared from the investigation.
There is certainly no surprise there since Erdogan and Yıldız are allies, and this was displayed on several occasions. No wonder this jihadist cleric joined Erdogan’s witch-hunt persecution of members of the Gülen movement by disclosing his ISIL-like jihadist mindset. He asked the government to decapitate and hang Fethullah Gülen, who has been an outspoken critic and opponent of jihadist groups. In a video posted on YouTube, he said members of the Gülen movement must be executed, hanged and their hands and arms cut off. Perhaps not in the same terms, but Erdogan, who publicly said members of the Gülen movement have no right to life, also uttered similar remarks. He incited the public to act against them on the street and asked for the execution and hanging of followers of Gülen when the death penalty was banned in Turkey. Yıldız and Erdogan are two sides of the same coin and certainly cut from the same cloth.
The leaked RedHack files, which exposed the emails of Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is also the energy minister in the Turkish government, further revealed this radical cleric Yıldız’s ties to the Erdogan family. The email exchanges, authenticated in legal documents, show how Yıldız mobilized Islamist groups in support of Erdogan’s governing AKP for the Nov. 1, 2015 elections, which helped him regain his lost majority in the Turkish Parliament. In what appears to be a situation report submitted to Erdogan’s son-in-law, Yıldız explains how jihadist groups in Syria issued a congratulatory message for the AKP winning the elections. In an email dated Nov. 4, 2015, Yıldız attached an Arabic declaration written by eight jihadist groups including Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Sham, Jabhat al-Shamiyah and Failaku Al-Rahman. Yıldız was also featured in another email that was sent to Albayrak on Oct. 8, 2015 that showed a list of approved speakers for dorms run by Erdogan’s family in Turkey.
Nureddin Yıldız is a leading cleric in Erdogan’s circle of trust that is bent on transforming the predominantly Sunni nation of approximately 80 million into a bastion of all sorts of radical Islamists and jihadists. His profile and close connections to the Turkish president’s family tells the tale of what kind of future awaits Turkey on the horizon. If Erdogan keeps getting away with supporting and providing sanctuary for these fanatics and zealots, Turkey’s allies and partner nations will also feel the tremors of this change taking place in Turkey under the Islamist government.