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[OPINION] Erdogan’s confidante who led armed Islamist group operating in Sweden via UETD

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Abdullah Bozkurt

Metin Külünk, a close confidante of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is the man who is in charge of clandestine operations in Sweden for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which represents a combustible mix of religious zealotry and xenophobic nationalism.

Külünk was involved with the Islamist Akincilar (Raiders) group in the late 1970s and early ’80s that was linked to Necmettin Erbakan, the founding father of political Islam in Turkey. According to court documents from those years from an investigation into Akincilar, Külünk was operating in the third cell of the armed unit of the Raiders and responsible for guns and armed operations. Külünk and Erdogan grew up together in Istanbul’s rundown Kasımpasa neighborhood, and both men trace their roots back to the northeastern province of Rize.

In the 2011 national elections during which Erdogan consolidated his power, Külünk was made a member of Parliament from Istanbul although he was involved in launching the AKP in 2002. Külünk put his armed militancy background to use when he was often involved in brawls with opposition groups in commissions and the plenary and was rewarded for such behavior by Erdogan. When the AKP government was rattled by major corruption investigations that were made public in December 2013, he was one of the few men who stood steadfastly by Erdogan, defending him and his family members.

Erdogan privately tasked him with running Islamist youth operations in Europe, especially in Germany and the Netherlands, where sizable Turkish diaspora groups exist. The secret discretionary funds at the disposal of Erdogan were made available to Külünk, who enjoyed not only the resources of the Turkish government but also those of pro-Erdogan Islamist NGOs and AKP fan groups in Europe. He helped build and finance parallel networks that were mobilized in many European cities when the Erdogan government needed a show of force abroad.

Külünk has been on the radar of several European intelligence services for his connections to diaspora groups that go far beyond a fraternal relationship. According to German media coverage that was sourced from leaked police wiretaps and surveillance records, he was one of the key operatives who provided money to a right-wing gang called Osmanen Germania in Germany to purchase weapons, organize protests and target critics of the Turkish leader. He was also involved in supporting the Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD), an extension of Erdogan’s AKP in Europe. Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia Ministry of Interior has confirmed that they have been looking into relations between them and the Turkish government.

Sweden is yet another battleground for Erdogan’s proxy groups, and Külünk is no doubt a star player in this comprehensive scheme of mobilizing Turkish and Muslim groups on behalf of the Erdogan government. In March 2017, Swedish national radio broadcaster Sveriges Radio’s EKOT team exposed how Özer Eken, the head of the UETD in Sweden, was involved in profiling, harassment and an intimidation campaign targeting critics of the Turkish regime. The taped conversation revealed how he pressured an unidentified man into naming political asylum seekers in Sweden in exchange for crossing his name off a black list that was apparently forwarded to the Turkish government through embassy channels in Stockholm.

Eken has been working closely with Külünk, who has visited Sweden to have meetings and rallies as part of programs organized by the UETD. In fact, Külünk was in Stockholm in February 2014 during the UETD Sweden branch’s first convention to organize its board, structure and membership portfolio in a gathering held at ABF Huddinge. He told the audience that Turkish government officials working in Sweden were at their service and asked attendees to inform them about any official who did not conform to what they expected. “We’ll take care of that right away,” he noted. Since then, a survey of Eken’s Twitter profile shows that he often retweeted Külünk’s messages on his social media account.

When Külünk came to Sweden in January 2015 to meet not only members of the Turkish diaspora but also Muslim groups of non-Turkish descent, he advised the audience to groom their children to enter Swedish politics in order to become parliamentarians and ministers. He pointed to Mehmet Kaplan, who was the housing minister in the Swedish government at the time, as a role model and said Turks need more Kaplan-like figures. He assured Erdogan supporters in Sweden that they had the full backing of the Turkish government.

Kaplan had to resign in April 2016 after the Swedish media picked up on his contacts with Islamist organizations and Turkish ultranationalist groups.

While in Stockholm, Külünk met with Fatih Mehmet Karaca, a religious attaché and head of the Diyanet Foundation in Sweden. Karaca is the man who dispatched reports compiled by Turkish imams as part of illegal surveillance of government critics in Sweden. The reports were submitted to the Turkish Parliament by the Diyanet (Religious Affairs Directorate) in Ankara, only to be buried in classified folders. Karaca was among VIP guests who were invited to the opening of the Stockholm office of the UETD in January 2017. Erdogan’s pointman Külünk came to Sweden again in October 2015 to deliver a campaign speech at the Östra Gymnasiet building. He was scheduled to appear in Gothenburg in October 2016 to inaugurate a new branch of the UETD, but the event was cancelled after an outcry from the Kurdish community.

In addition to acting as Erdogan’s long arm in Sweden, where his critics were profiled, harassed and intimidated, the UETD was also instructed to tap into non-Turkish Muslim diaspora groups in order to channel their support to Turkish President Erdogan. Capitalizing on major grievances of Muslim communities, the UETD has already made some inroads into non-Turkish Muslim groups in Sweden as part of Erdogan’s drive to position himself as a sort of caliphate-like leader to represent all Muslims in the world. As a result, the UETD and other affiliated groups have not only organized stand-alone events to show support for the Turkish president, but they also have participated in events organized by other Muslim groups in Sweden.

For example, when US President Donald Trump announced his administration’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Muslim community in Sweden took to the streets to protest, just like many others around the world. In a rally that was attended by some 1,000 people in the downtown area of Stockholm in December 2017, UETD members joined the rally with Turkish flags (the only other national flag that was displayed was Palestine’s). The speeches delivered to rally-goers mentioned Turkey and Erdogan, while UETD fans were chanting pro-Erdogan slogans and hailing the Turkish president. Külünk posted pictures from the rally on his Twitter account and thanked his brothers at the rally.

Likewise, when an estimated 650,000 Rohingyas fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh to escape the massacre perpetrated by the Myanmar military, the UETD joined the Swedish Rohingya Association’s (SRA) rally in September 2017 to protest the rights violations with Turkish flags. The prayers for Turkish President Erdogan were cited by the participants, while UETD head Eken posed for pictures for Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu (AA). Erdogan’s operatives also target Muslim immigrant communities in Sweden from Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

This is quite ironic and in fact hypocritical on the part of Erdogan, who has locked up some 60,000 innocent people in the last year or so and detained 150,000 on fabricated terror, coup plotting and espionage charges. His government has jailed almost 250 journalists, making Turkey the worst jailer of journalists in the world. This neck-deep corrupt Islamist politician does not care about violation of the rights of Palestinians or other Muslim groups but is rather interested in manipulating and exploiting their plight for his own political ambitions. He also sees Muslim diaspora groups as trump cards to play against other countries when he needs to increase his bargaining power.

My sources tell me that European intelligence services have grown quite concerned about this pattern of the mobilizing of diaspora groups for political purposes by the Turkish government and have increased monitoring and surveillance of activities to identify any clandestine moves that could pose a threat to the security and safety of their own communities. A European Parliament resolution that approved the critical 2016 Commission Report on Turkey on July 6, 2017, which called for the freezing of accession talks with Turkey, captured Erdoğan’s nefarious activities in member states. It underlined that “that the Turkish government must refrain from systematic efforts to mobilize the Turkish diaspora in member states for its own purposes; notes with concern the reports of alleged pressure on members of the Turkish diaspora living in member states; and condemns the Turkish authorities’ surveillance of citizens with dual nationality living abroad.”

I have had my own bitter taste of Erdogan’s intimidation campaign, which extended to Sweden with assassination threats and physical violence targeting me personally. Cem Küçük, an Erdogan propagandist who said on public TV that Turkish intelligence agency MIT knows where I live in Stockholm and asked the agency to assassinate me in cold blood, was invited to make a speech in Stockholm by the UETD in October 2016. The venue where he was about to speak cancelled following protests, but he gave a speech in a public square. I have also been stalked by a woman named Gulsen Cigel (aka Vatansever) who heads the women’s branch of the UETD in Sweden. She was calling me a traitor, terrorist and all kinds of names, revealing the neighborhood where I live and even asking Turks to spit in my face when they spot me in the streets of Stockholm, clearly amounting to an incitement to violence. The case is still pending with the Swedish police after I filed a complaint about the harassment.

Hardly surprising to see this kind of behavior from UETD officials when they are closely aligned with the radical Islamist Külünk, who had led armed Raiders groups in Turkey in the past and is now doing the dirty bidding of his boss, Erdogan, in other countries.

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