By Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D.
Halis Bayancuk is the leader of ISIS in Turkey. His kunya is Abu Hanzala, although Turkish ISIS members call him Hanzala Hoca (Sheikh Hanzala). Halis Bayancuk and his father Haci Bayancuk have a long history of involvement with radical terrorist organizations. Haci Bayancuk was among the leadership cadres of Turkish Hezbollah (TH). In fact, Haci Bayancuk, code name (given by the Turkish Hezbollah) “Hafiz”, was the emir of the political wing of the Turkish Hezbollah. Hafiz was behind the assassination of Chief of Diyarbakir Police Department Gaffar Okan and was also among the Turkish Hezbollah members in the Gaziantep cell that killed a police SWAT team member. He is currently serving a life sentence in Turkish prison.
His son Halis has a different story. After his father’s arrest in 2005, Halis was sent to Egypt with other Turkish Hezbollah members for ideological education with support from Turkish Hezbollah members residing in Germany. When Halis returned to Turkey in 2008, he was already an al-Qaeda member and started to preach for al-Qaeda, especially among his father’s old connections, converting several TH members to al-Qaeda. Halis was then arrested by the Turkish National Police for sending children around the age of fiteent to nineteen to receive training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and for being among the perpetrators of the al-Qaeda synagogue bombings in Istanbul in 2008. He was released on May 15, 2009 due to lack of evidence. Halis did not halt his terrorist activities and as the police kept following him, it was realized that an al-Qaeda cell under the control of Halis was about to carry out a serious bombing attack in Turkey which would attract worldwide attention. As a result, Halis and fifty other al-Qaeda members were arrested in 2011. However, Halis was again released from prison on January 24, 2013 again due to lack of enough evidence.
Upon his release, Halis kept himself busy with his terrorist activities again and was once again arrested in Van province (eastern Turkey) in January 14, 2014 during an al-Qaeda policing operation in which he was named as the leader of Turkish al-Qaeda with charges of facilitating passage of foreign and Turkish al-Qaeda fighters to Syria in groups of fifteen via Turkey, providing weapons and logistical support to al-Qaeda and collecting money from different businesses to fund al-Qaeda. During the same operation Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and Qatari Red Crescent offices and warehouses in Kilis were raided by the police for the involvement in a humanitarian relief truck caught with ammunitions and weapons in Reyhanli Hatay on January 1, 2014 which were claimed to be being arranged by the MIT, Turkish National Intelligence. This operation was deemed by the police as the end of Halis, given that they now had enough evidence against him to lock him up for many years.
However, the December 2013 corruption operation against then Prime Minister Erdogan’s close circles became a saving grace for Halis. After this operation, Halis started to claim that the police entrapped him alongside the IHH during the operations and implanted evidence to incriminate him and the IHH. As a result, Halis was released from prison again on November 9, 2014, while several police chiefs and officers along with the prosecutors involved in the Van province al-Qaeda operations were fired by the Turkish government under claims that they were among the plotters against Erdogan because the Van al-Qaeda operation targeted the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation IHH, which has close ties to Erdogan.
When Halis left prison again on November 9, 2014, he established ties with newly emerging ISIS. Halis was never shy about the support he was extending to ISIS and he started to openly preach about why ISIS needed to be supported. In one of his sermons just weeks after he was released from prison on December 21, 2014, Halis clearly and in detail explained in a video which is still available on YouTube why Muslims should and must support ISIS.
Quotes of excerpts and explanations from his speech are as follows (translated from Turkish):
1:30: “Some people believe that the situation in Syria is caused by ad-Dawlah [ISIS], which is not true.” (ISIS members use and force others to use the term “ad-Dawlah”, the State in Arabic, to refer to ISIS. Please see the details in our book “ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate” (Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S., 2016.)
8:24: He supports the ISIS decision not to join Jabhat al-Islamiyya.
9:00: He blames the West for calling ISIS a radical extremist group.
11:45: “ISIS is not to be blamed as the origin of incidents in Syria. Rather, ISIS is protecting Muslims.”
12:00: ISIS policies are being supported by Bayancuk against the other jihadi groups. “If we do not like the policies of ISIS, should we fight against them?” He asks.
15:20: Halis quotes ISIS leaders on how to solve the Syrian problem.
21:50: “ISIS is a lot better for Syria as there is only one solid leader (the Caliph) to deal with when compared to other groups, therefore the West does not like ISIS.”
22:20: He supports the ideological doctrine (Islamic creed, aqidah) of ISIS pointing out that ISIS does not accept negotiations with the West and democracy.
23:00: “Democracy is a religion and cannot be involved in Islam.”
23:50: “Anyone who supports the fight against ISIS, he is an infidel for sure.”
24:45: “Anyone who is silent about not backing ISIS, I am afraid their hearts are ill.”
25:50: “Why is ISIS deemed at fault when the FSA attacked them first?”
26:50: “ISIS members are our Muslim brothers, anything against them is an attack, oral or physical against us.”
27:06: “All Muslims have the obligation to support ISIS. Also, they must help ISIS to clear their paths from difficulties.”
27:20: “As Muslims we must clearly take our stand by ISIS.”
27:30: “I am Halis Bayancuk declaring that I believe this war is a war of aqidah [Islamic creed] and Allah willing I am with my ad-Dawlah [ISIS] brothers, I am supporting them with my prayers and backing them up. Whoever attacks my brothers (ISIS members) I consider that attack to myself.”
27:50: “Dear brothers, we must declare our stand by ISIS for the reasons I listed.”
Similarly, in another video on YouTube released on February 11, 2015, Halis explains in detail with several twisted references to Islamic scripture and the life of the Prophet Mohammed why the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot was acceptable according to Islamic rules even though the Prophet Mohammad clearly and openly banned burning living creatures (and yet Halis references that ban).
As ISIS has been freely operating in Turkey after it was established in 2013, they have taken their existence and activities to a new level in Istanbul, beginning in 2014 during Islamic feast prayers. On July 18, 2015 ISIS members attended an open picnic-type traditional second feast prayer (the first was carried out in 2014) lead by Halis Bayancuk with around a thousand people, where Halis addressed the congregation calling for supporting militant jihad openly and threatening anyone who opposes them. As the video is watched, it can clearly be understood that none of these ISIS supporters and members are hiding themselves and everybody is very open and comfortable being at an event lead by the ISIS leadership in Turkey.
With the opposition pressuring the Erdogan government about the open and undisturbed activities of ISIS as ISIS attacks have been carried out around the country including the Suruc suicide attack killing tens of people, the police had to rearrest Halis Bayancuk. They did so on July 24, 2015 with the charges of being the leader of ISIS in Turkey and facilitating two French women to go to Gaziantep from Istanbul and enable their journey onward to Syria to join ISIS. The police found handguns and shotguns in the house search according to Hurriyet Turkish Daily. And, according to the prosecutor’s indictment, Halis was accused of being the primary leader of ISIS in Turkey. Furthermore, Halis and his friends were charged for five different ISIS attacks including the Suruc and Ankara suicide attacks, the Mosul Turkish Consulate raid and the hostage-taking of 49 people, kidnapping of 32 Turkish truck drivers in Mosul and the Nigde gendarmerie road checkpoint attack. Additionally, as the leader of ISIS in Turkey, Halis was charged with providing logistical support to ISIS, facilitating movement of ISIS foreign fighters, recruiting new members for ISIS, establishing so-called ISIS sharia courts and ruling for the executions of people, threatening people by using the name of ISIS against their causes and sending people who he has indoctrinated from Turkey to fight “jihad” in Syria and Iraq. These charges were all very serious and the press published many pieces from the hearings, especially how Halis was countering and challenging the judges during the trials.
However, unexpectedly, Halis and all 95 of the other suspects in the main ISIS case were suddenly released on March 24, 2016 during the fourth hearing. The details of the trials were discussed in the media as the suspects were inexplicably released. The government received a lot of heat from the opposition and public as a result. It was claimed by several opposition members that ISIS members were released based on the ongoing policy of the AKP government to support ISIS members even in the stark face of that there was enough physical evidence, including explosives to lock them up for several years.
Meanwhile, Halis and his supporters continue their presence on social media and on the Internet through their websites, pushing several pro-ISIS and militant jihadi publications, even when Halis was in prison and after his release. Their initial web page takvahaber.com was closed by the court during the trials as they claimed to be “the first and only official website of ISIS”. After that they immediately opened new accounts under different names and kept up with their activities. For example, in takvahaber.com, they openly published articles to assist the foreign fighters who were coming to Turkey to join ISIS. Their recommendations were very inclusive and comprehensive and ranged from detailing the items foreign fighters needed to have in their possessions, to pre-arranged answers to give to customs and police officers if stopped, to special instructions for women. These detailed all-encompassing instructions were published to help the foreign fighters and Turkish ISIS members who were going to join ISIS crossing into Syria via the Turkish borders.
As of today, Halis and his supporters openly and freely run several different social media accounts including these Twitter accounts (@Tevhidi_gundem, @Ebu_HanzalaHoca, @Tevhid_Dersleri, @Tevhid__Dergisi), a YouTube channel, an Instagram channel and their main website http://www.tevhidigundem.org/ all of which are freely accessible in Turkey. The Turkish government has not attempted to close or block these accounts even though Turkey is currently the world champion of blocking different dissident social media accounts including arresting and blocking many journalists who dare to criticize the government.
While Halis is operating freely in Turkey during a time when government repression is strong, some opposition members dared to question this situation. Among them was the main opposition party Parliament member, Eren Erdem. He openly asked several questions to the Interior Minister Efkan Ala and the Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag during his addresses at the Parliament. Erdem claimed that he had in his possession a hidden police report in which the details of ISIS activities were listed comprehensively. Among those he cited was that the Turkish police were aware of thousands of foreign fighters passing through the borders but never intervened. He cited wire tapings in which ISIS members were openly talking about the numbers of foreign fighters who entered Syria and Turkey in detail, giving the number of foreign fighters entering Syria from the Turkish border as 1128 and from Syria to Turkey as 175 in one instance, also ordering police lights from Turkey to be used in Raqqa for the ISIS hisbah , the ISIS police (please see more in “ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate” Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S., 2016). According to the wiretappings, the Turkish police also knew beforehand that the Ankara and Suruc suicide attacks were going to be carried out and have never attempted to stop the perpetrators. His report included how Halis Bayancuk was making phone calls to arrange foreign fighter’s passages and citing himself as the takvahaber.com editor in chief, how ISIS members were being freely treated at Turkish hospitals, and several other claims based on the police intelligence report and wiretappings he had at his hand while he was speaking in the Parliament on May 12, 2016. Additionally, it was revealed during the trials that based on the wiretapping and observation / pursuit records though the warrant of Ankara ninth high criminal court, the police were following ISIS suspects and even though they were aware of the transfer of drones, Kalashnikov automatic rifles and M72 Light Anti-Armor Weapons, they have never attempt to stop those transfers and never bothered to arrest the suspects openly talking on their phones about those transfers.
While all these events were happening according to the police wiretaps, there were also lot of other strange occurrences in Turkey which have never before happened in Turkey. For example, the Turkish Religious Authority’s official children’s magazine Diyanet Cocuk strangely issued a cartoon in which the children are advised to become “martyrs” by their fathers. Unbelievably, this never before seen support for suicide operations and terrorism, clearly backing Salafist jihadist ideology, was suddenly appearing from Turkish religious authorities. Likewise, a TRT (Turkish Radio and Television authority) documentary was put out in which a Syrian child is asked through the questions of the TRT journalist to explain why she would become a suicide bomber and it was being broadcasted openly in the Turkish government channel in such a manner as to glorify her decision to “martyr” herself. Perhaps most importantly the top Turkish bureaucracy never named ISIS as a terrorist organization until the beginning of 2016. Even in an October 16, 2015 video (at the thirty-third second) Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu calls ISIS a “bunch of frustrated Sunni young people” versus terrorists. Furthermore, the same administration has never openly come out and named ISIS as a terrorist group until 2016.
Consequently, it is obvious that Halis Bayancuk, the leader of ISIS in Turkey, his terrorist activities, his group and his followers, all of which openly support ISIS logistically all over Turkey, by recruiting new cadres and facilitating the passage of foreign fighters and many more terrorist activities which we are not yet totally aware of, have somehow been hidden from sight and protected by dirty unseen hands in Turkey. It is clear that this situation has caused several hundreds of killings of innocent people in Turkey and thousands in Syria, not to mention ISIS attacks in Europe and elsewhere. The logistical support network run by Turkish (Yayla, A.S., 2015) based terrorists have also provided all the explosive materials being used by ISIS to produce IEDs (handmade explosives) in Syria and Iraq along with conventional military materials such as missile heads, ramps or pipes which are being knowingly or unknowingly produced specifically for ISIS in different factories or shops for ISIS which have also caused the deaths of thousands of people.
There is a common saying in Turkish inherited from the Ottoman times, basically a ruling written as (es-sebebü ke’l-fail), “who causes a deed is like who does that deed”. So, whatever the deed is, the authorities from the lowest to the highest positions who had a part in closing their eyes to the ISIS terrorist organizations operating in Turkey now have a share of the ISIS bloodshed and other dirty deeds at their hands.
If Turkey is sincere in its fight against terrorism, the terror network run by Halis Bayancuk as the leader of Turkish ISIS must be stopped immediately. The Turkish government must apply the rule of law against this terrorist organization. It is clear that any bureaucrat and authority from the lowest level to the highest level, from police officers on the street to counter-terrorism officers to the chiefs of polices to the high-level bureaucrats including the governors and related ministers to the prosecutors and judges had, have, and will have their share of criminal burden in the future by not carrying out the required actions against this terrorist group and allowing its members to operate freely inside Turkey. According to the Turkish constitution, any illegal order in which there are elements of unlawful instructions cannot be executed regardless of who gives the order. Any officer executing illegal orders will someday be held legally responsible and liable for their activities based on the Turkish constitution. Furthermore, there is no statute of limitations for these types of crimes. Additionally, any officer not intervening in any terrorist activity knowingly can be held liable in the future for the actions and the damages of the terrorist in which they failed to stop. Of course, tragically, when that time comes, there will not be any politicians to help save the officers who failed to stop terrorist based on the orders they received.
Terrorism is a crime against humanity. Regardless of terrorist groups’ ideologies, geographical locations or host countries’ political and other objectives, no terrorist group should be considered as anything but terrorists. The questions are very simple, who will be held responsible for the killings of hundreds of thousands of innocent people at the hands of ISIS terrorists? Who in the Turkish government offered free passage for ISIS and their logistical supplies across Turkish borders? Who tolerated the Turkish ISIS structure to run a large network to supply themselves freely, support and contribute to the ongoing terror both in Syria and Turkey, and beyond—even into Europe itself? The answers are evident and those who are guilty must be brought to task.
Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D. is co‐author of the just released book, ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. He is Deputy Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and is also Adjunct Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University. He formerly served as Professor and the Chair of the Sociology Department at Harran University in Turkey. He is the former Chief of Counterterrorism and Operations Division for the Turkish National Police with a 20‐year career interviewing terrorists.
Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate: Advances Press, LLC. June, 2016. Washington, D.C.
Yayla, A. S. Deadly Interactions: ISIS, (IS) Turkey and Syria. World Policy Journal 32(4):83-91. December, 2015. New York.