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Turkey’s alleged ISIL leader released from prison pending retrial

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Halis Bayancuk, who is accused of being the Turkey leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), was released from prison on Monday seven months after his conviction was reversed by Turkey’s top appeals court, the Gerçek Gündem news website reported.

In February 2021 Bayancuk, also known by the codename Abu Hanzala, was handed down a prison sentence of 12 years, six months by an İstanbul court on charges of “establishing and leading an armed terrorist group.”

He had been behind bars since his detention in May 2017.

The Supreme Court of Appeals reversed Bayancuk’s conviction on Dec. 28, 2022 and ordered a retrial.

At the last hearing of his trial, the court decided to merge three cases pending against him.

According to Gerçek Gündem, the radical Islamist Free Cause Party (HÜDA-PAR), the political arm of Kurdish Hizbullah, had been exerting pressure on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to help release of Bayancuk. The AKP struck an election alliance with HÜDA-PAR before the presidential and parliamentary elections held in May.

Bayancuk’s father Hacı Bayancuk was one of the founders of Hizbullah and had been sentenced to life in prison due to his involvement in the murder of dozens of people in the country’s southeast in the 1990s.

Hacı Bayancuk was also released from prison along with 57 other Hizbullah members in April shortly after the AKP made the alliance with HÜDA-PAR.

HÜDA-PAR was founded in 2012 in the ashes of Hizbullah, an extremist Sunni group that emerged in southeastern Turkey in 1985. The party calls for constitutional recognition of the Kurds and the Kurdish language, the decentralization of state power and the strengthening of local administrations. The party, which is opposed to LGBT rights, also wants adultery criminalized and religious marriages recognized.

HÜDA-PAR endorsed the president in an April 16, 2017 referendum that gave Erdoğan broad powers. All convicted and charged Kurdish Hizbullah members have been released from prison in recent years thanks to Erdoğan’s reshuffling of the judiciary through which Islamists were put in key positions.

Since 2009, Halis Bayancuk has been detained at least a half-dozen times in Turkey, only to be released because of a lack of evidence or problems involving the charges against him.

He and his wife were arrested after police raided their home and seized a number of ISIL-linked documents in 2015. He was released in March 2016.

A year later, he was detained once again after threatening the staff of the İstanbul Governor’s Office in an online video because a meeting he had planned to attend was canceled by the authorities.

Bayancuk had also been arrested in 2011 and 2014 for membership in al-Qaeda and was released both times after spending a couple of months in prison.

More than 300 people have been killed and hundreds of others have been injured in Turkey in at least 10 suicide bombings, seven bombings and four armed assaults organized by ISIL, which was declared a terrorist organization by Turkey in 2013.

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