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Main opposition leader visits family of soldier allegedly murdered by ISIL

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 Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), visited the family of one of two Turkish soldiers who were allegedly burned to death by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists after being taken hostage in northern Syria in 2016, criticizing the government for inaction in the wake of the incident, the ANKA news agency reported on Monday.

A video of the two soldiers –- later identified as Fethi Şahin and Sefer Taş, who had been taken hostage by ISIL in the al-Bab region of northern Syria in late 2016 — being brutally murdered was shared online on ISIL accounts in December 2016, leading to outrage.

The soldiers were sent to Syria as part of Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield to help Syrian rebels drive ISIL from the border city of Jarabulus in August 2016, in a dramatic escalation of its involvement in the Syrian civil war.

The 19-minute video, showing soldiers in Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) uniforms being hauled from a cage before being bound and set on fire, was posted online and was supposedly shot in the ISIL-declared “Aleppo Province” in northern Syria.

Turkish government officials were outraged following the release of the video and criticized people who spread it without verifying its authenticity. An access ban was immediately imposed on social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Kılıçdaroğlu on Monday paid a visit to the Şahin family in Konya province and made a statement to the press afterward, saying they were frustrated by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s silence and inaction after the video of the incident was spread on social media.

The Turkish government has to date not made any statement as to the authenticity of the video, showing the brutal killing of the two soldiers at the hands of ISIL in December 2016.

“An army takes care of its own soldiers first. This is its main task. … A state brings [the body of a soldier] who is killed [in another land] back to his own country. Six years have passed, but [Şahin’s] real fate is still unknown,” the CHP leader said, vowing to bring the issue to the agenda of parliament when it reopens after the summer recess.

Kılıçdaroğlu also promised to shed light on all the details of the incident and the events taking place in the aftermath, including revealing the identity of people who facilitated the release of one of the perpetrators of the killing of soldiers, when his party comes to power in the 2023 elections.

Journalist İsmail Saymaz previously claimed in his column on the Halk TV news website that Jamal Abdul Rahman Alwi, a so-called ISIL qadi –- a Muslim judge who renders decisions according to Islamic law –- who issued a fatwa for the execution of Şahin and Taş, was living in the southeastern province of Gaziantep with his family and had been released from jail on bail.

According to Saymaz, Alwi was coincidentally captured in a police operation in June 2020 and was sent to jail. He was subsequently indicted on charges of leading a terrorist organization. In the indictment, he is accused of serving in ISIL between 2013 and 2016, acting as a qadi for the radical group and issuing fatwas for the execution of people including the two Turkish soldiers. The first hearing of his trial took place in September 2020. He was released pending trial in March 2021 due to a lack of sufficient evidence against him and because there was no possibility of his tampering with evidence. Although a travel ban was imposed on him following his release, it was lifted in June.

Alwi was arrested in September 2021 after the outrage caused by the news about him enjoying life in Gaziantep.

Kılıçdaroğlu also posted a series of tweets about the 2016 killing of the Turkish soldiers, saying, “The state remained silent about this incident. … Even martyrdom has been betrayed so that [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan won’t be criticized.”

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