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Two extracts from the high-circulation daily Hürriyet. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton

The trial of those accused of causing the November Istanbul bombing has started. In the first extract from the front page of Hürriyet dated 13 September 2004, interesting details are reported from the testimony of the accused in the trial. In the second extract, from Hürriyet 14 September 2004, columnist Fatih Altay claims that the Istanbul Police may have been able to prevent the bombings if an application to tap phones had not been refused.

EXTRACT 1

Ersöz: I spoke with Bin Laden

Al-Qaeda defendant Adnan Ersöz who is accused of being involved in the Istanbul bombings says, “I spoke with Bin Laden in Afghanistan. I had nothing to do with the bombings.”

The detained defendants Fevzi Yitiz, Adnan Ersöz, Yusuf Polat, Harun İlhan, Osman Eken, Süleyman Uğurlu, Metin Ekinci, Seyit Ertul and Baki Yiğit were present at the hearing at Istanbul Central Criminal Court number 10. A motion presented between sittings by defence counsel Cihat Madran for the hearing to be held in camera and for a press reporting restriction to be imposed was rejected by the judicial bench. The presiding judge announced that the charge sheet dated 25 February 2004 had been delivered to the defendants and moved on to the case for the defence.

The first defendant thus questioned, Adnan Ersöz, said that in 1996 he went to study in Pakistan where he made the acquaintance of a person he knew as "Uncle Mahmut", and when he was unable to register with the school he moved to Afghanistan with the assistance of this person where he received light weapon and artillery training at a camp.

Saying that he did this with the aim of taking part in the struggle in Chechnya and that he later returned to Pakistan, Ersöz explained that he met Habib Akdaş during his university years and that they were in business for a while but their partnership ended when the business they started failed to take off.

Ersöz, recounting that Habib Akdaş, who did not wish to live in Turkey, went to Afghanistan with the aim of helping those wishing to 'participate in a holy war', while he himself started a business in Pakistan, stated that he went to Afghanistan a short time before the events of 11 September to talk to Habib Akdaş and Baki Yiğit and he was not quite sure whether the camp he stayed at belonged to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

HE CONFIRMED THAT HE SPOKE WITH BIN LADEN

Stating that in the course of these discussions Akdaş told how he had spoken with Al-Qaeda military wing official Ebul Hafs El Misri, and that his requests for material support had met with a positive response and he had received eight to ten thousand dollars, Adnan Ersöz said, “A relationship of mutual support was established. El Misri said that he was thinking of an operation targeting the Incirlik base and Israeli shipping. Habib Akdaş stated that if these were his intentions he would research the situation and pass on the results.”

Recalling how a few days later, aided by El Misri, they went to a single-storey mud house where they spoke with Osama Bin Laden and then had breakfast together, Ersöz said, “It was a very easy matter to see Bin Laden before 11 September. In fact, he was attending hospital appointments and giving talks. But it was impossible to see Bin Laden after 11 September.” Saying that Akdaş and Yiğit fled Afghanistan after 11 September and came to Pakistan, Ersöz stated that Akdaş went to Turkey where he kept alive the idea of carrying out an operation targeting the Incirlik base or Israeli shipping.

Ersöz said, “He wanted me to help him with this operation. He kept saying, ‘Let's get about 100-150 thousand dollars and go to Turkey.’ I spoke to him at length. I told him that he lacked the knowledge, experience and capacity to carry out such an act. I told him that under current conditions it was nothing short of madness to participate in such an operation aimed at giving media attention to a tiny event.”

Stating that Akdaş then returned to Turkey having abandoned his idea and that he lost touch with him for a while, Ersöz announced that in 2003 he spoke to a person named Ebu Hafs, who he stated was not Ebul Hafs El Misri, and he learned that Habib Akdaş 's request for money had been granted.

Saying that he learnt from Ebu Hafs that Sheik Halid, who had been apprehended by the CIA, knew about this money matter and if he spoke the people in Turkey would be in danger, Ersöz stated that as a result he returned to Turkey from Pakistan to warn Akdaş and informed him of the situation.

Stating that he learned from Akdaş that he had contacted a Syrian named Alaaddin and received 150 thousand dollars, Ersöz announced that he went abroad again after Akdaş told him that İrfan Kavak, following his apprehension by the intelligence units, had been shown, among others, his own photograph.

Explaining how the events of 15 and 20 November took place while Habib Akdaş was waiting to move to Iraq to take part in the resistance, Ersöz said in his defence that he learned of the explosions from the Turkish newspapers he looked at on the Internet.

Ersöz said, “It was a totally unexpected thing for me. I was shocked. Later I learned that my wife had been taken into police custody. I then said to my family that I would give myself up. I returned to Turkey on the plane ticket that they sent to me.”

THE NATURE OF THE TURKISH STRUCTURE

Ersöz, saying in his defence that Habib Akdaş approached him at various stages, but at no time did he have any knowledge of where and when the operation would be carried out nor of who it was being planned by, said,

“Habib Akdaş shared various views with me and Baki Yiğit. It would be wrong to call this a council. We were talking among friends. Nobody, including Habib Akdaş, is an Al-Qaeda member. Habib Akdaş established a relationship of mutual support with Al-Qaeda. Of course, there are similarities in terms of their ideas. But it is wrong to call this Al-Qaeda's Turkish structure or El-Turka. At the very most, it is possible to speak of a cell or platform with Al-Qaeda connections. This was a structure established by Habib Akdaş with Gürcan Baç and Harun İlhan as council members."

One of the defendants questioned, Fevzi Yitiz, explained that he met Habib Akdaş while studying in Pakistan and that they started a company when they returned to Turkey and he was only involved with this company's marketing affairs, and later became uncomfortable with Akdaş and Baki Yiğit 's conduct and left the company.

Yitiz, claiming that he had no connection with the Istanbul bombings, called for the charges against him to be dismissed. The hearing continues so that all the defendants may be questioned.

EXTRACT 2

Fatih ALTAYLI

The public prosecutor said "There is no Al-Qaeda". Sixty-two people died.

We broadcasted an amazing story on KANAL D News yesterday. My friend the master crime reporter Ekrem Açıkel has made a very important discovery.
His sources show that in Turkey, where the most unlikely people have their phones tapped, some very important calls were actually not intercepted.

It is alleged that had a public prosecutor not said ”There is no Al-Qaeda” the attacks of 15 and 20 November that left 62 people dead could have been avoided.

In the first week of August 2003, the Istanbul police picked up the trail of Habib Akdaş , killed last week in Iraq, and one of his friends. Turkish Al-Qaeda leader Habib Akdaş was the very person who gave the orders for these attacks. The Intelligence Department applied for authorisation to intercept the Turkish Al-Qaeda members' phone calls.

The Istanbul police presented the document to the Istanbul State Security Court for approval.

The document presented to the Istanbul State Security Court read as follows:

”We respectfully request the granting of authorisation to intercept the telephone calls of two persons believed to be terror organisation Al-Qaeda extremists who have been under surveillance for some time in our province of Istanbul.”

It is alleged that the State Security Court public prosecutor serving at that time said ”no” to this request. The public prosecutor wrote a justification for his decision on the back of the same document:

”Pursuant to the relevant article of the Law for Combatting Terrorism it is not possible to carry out this interception. Moreover, the available evidence suggests that a terror organisation named Al-Qaeda is not operating in Turkey.”

This reply, most probably made in 'good faith', removed a possibility that these attacks that left Istanbul stained in blood could have been prevented.

And roughly three months down the line the Al-Qaeda organisation, supposedly 'not operating in Turkey', first blew up two synagogues followed by the British Consulate and HSBC's Head Office. Who knows, if permission had been given for these phone taps, the Istanbul Police would have had a chance of tracking down the Turkish Al-Qaeda leader and its cells and of preventing four bombings that left Istanbul stained in blood.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton