Suspected Islamic State leader in Turkey launches conference series

A photoshopped poster of Abu Hanzala's conference in Ankara reads, "One who does not rule according to Allah's Quran is an infidel". The poster was photoshopped over one of Turkey's founder Mutafa Kemal Ataturk.

An extremist cleric accused of being the leader of the Islamic State (IS) group in Turkey, Halis Bayuncuk, will give a series of lectures across Turkey beginning Sunday. Bayuncuk (code-named Abu Hanzala), came to public attention after he led an Eid prayer in July 2015 in Istanbul where he made a call for “Holy war.” He also recently said “burning people is lawful [under Sharia law]”.

Hanzala was arrested in 2008 while planning to raid two synagogues in Istanbul and imprisoned for a year. He was also one of the suspects accused of planning the October 2015 Ankara twin-suicide bombing, which killed 103 civilians, and the July 2015 Suruc suicide-bomb resulting in the death of 33 civilians.

Bayuncuk was detained on charges of leading the IS group in Turkey in several other investigations, including the siege of the Turkish Consulate in Mosul in 2014, the kidnapping of 32 truck drivers who were transporting diesel to Iraq and the attack on a military station in Turkish city Nigde. Despite strong evidence linking him with the jihadist group, Bayuncuk was released.

According to Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, another radical Islamist party called Hizb-ut Tahrir (Salvation Party), which calls for sharia in Turkey has organised two conferences entitled ‘Why does the world need the Caliphate?’ for next month. The group shared an introductory video for the events on social media calling the Turkish republic a ‘demonic secular regime’.

In January nine people were taken into custody in the Central Anatolian city of Konya on charges of online ‘Islamic State (IS) propaganda’ and later released by the court on condition of judicial control.

Opposition parties and media in Turkey have criticised authorities and security forces for shortcomings in dealing with the IS threat in Turkey. There have also been serious claims of facilitating and turning a blind-eye to jihadist groups operating in Syria and Turkey.

Commentators critical of Turkey’s Syria policy have pointed out that many of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups backed by Ankara and participating in the Euphrates Shield operation are also Salafist jihadist groups.