A Daesh-linked jihadist is allegedly developing a terrorist network from a Turkish prison.

Abu Hanzala, with an extensive record of terrorist offences, is sentenced to 12 years for leading Daesh in Turkey
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REUTERS/OSMAN ORSAL  -   Halis Bayancuk, a Turkish cleric arrested several times on suspicion of aiding Al Qaeda. Bayancuk, also known as "Abu Hanzala", has warned Ankara that it must take a more active role in the US-led fight against Daesh.

Halis Bayancuk, a jihadist who encouraged many young people to join al-Qaeda and Daesh, is reportedly developing a terrorist network from a Turkish prison, according to the Nordic Monitor website. Halis Bayancuk, codenamed Abu Hanzala, is sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of leading Daesh in Turkey. In 2007 he was targeted by Turkish police for preaching radical views similar to those of Al-Qaeda.

Nordic Monitor also notes that Turkish authorities are aware of Abu Hanzala's plans and actions. In fact, according to the investigative website, Hanzala's group has increased its operations with a new company called Ecir Kapısı Hizmet Eğitim ve Kültür Derneği (Education and Culture Association). This charity, established in April 2019, helps the cell to raise funds.

The Education and Culture Association has been approved by the Turkish Ministry of Interior and is now listed as an active organisation in Turkey. It raises funds in foreign currencies and Turkish lira using the Kuveyt Türk bank, run by associates close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The organisation has branches in several Turkish provinces, including Diyarbakir, Bursa, Van and Koyna. In the latter region, the group's publishing house sells books containing radical articles and sermons by Abu Hanzala.

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PHOTO/ARCHIVO - Women activists working for the Abu Hanzala group in Turkey
A past of terrorist crimes

Abu Hanzala spent four years in Egypt, but had to flee when the Egyptian authorities began persecuting his group. He subsequently moved to Turkey, becoming involved in the Turkish al-Qaeda network. This jihadist cell was headed by Habip Akdas, who organised the 2003 bombings of the British Consulate and two synagogues in Istanbul. Akdas was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq.

After Akdas' death, Abu Hanzala began to lead the group. In 2008 he was arrested along with 35 others suspected of organising the synagogue bombings. According to a legal text from the Turkish Prosecutor's Office released by Nordic Monitor, Hanzala was the main suspect in the terrorist plot. Until his final arrest in June 2017, he was frequently in and out of prison. During his periods of freedom, he travelled to Gaziantep, a Turkish province near the Syrian border, to meet with jihadist militants.

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PHOTO/ARCHIVO - Abu Hanzala and his wife under police escort

One of his many arrests came in January 2014, during a Turkish raid against al-Qaeda. The subsequent investigation showed that Hanzala's network was linked to the transfer of foreign and Turkish fighters to Syria. Terrorists from Pakistan and Afghanistan were also involved in this operation. Subsequently, in July 2015 he led a protest against the Turkish state criticising democracy and calling for a country based on Islamic law (Sharia). Abu Hanzala was also an inspirational figure behind the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, who was assassinated in December 2016. Mevlüt Mer Altintas, who fatally shot the ambassador, had conducted an extensive YouTube search on Hanzala's actions. Altintas made a jihadist hand gesture after committing the murder, also stating that he acted because of Russian intervention in Syria during the civil war.

Regarding Turkey's actions in Syria, Hanzala also warned Erdogan. "I think Turkey could be harmed by it," the jihadist declared. "If you join the West in their war you will lose all legitimacy in the eyes of the people of the Middle East," he warned.

Hanzala's link to radicalism may come from his father, Haci Bayancuk, who was involved in the assassination of a Turkish police chief in Diyarbakir. During the investigation, Bayancuk was accused of belonging to the Turkish Hezbollah faction.

PHOTO/ARCHIVO - Abu Hanzala group in a press statement criticising the government on 11 July 2021

Since the rise of Daesh in the Middle East, Turkey has been fighting terrorism in Syria, which has cost it numerous attacks on its territory. Ankara, the capital, has been the main target of attacks. Now that the jihadist group is not as organised as it was a few years ago, Turkish forces are continuing their campaign against Daesh-related cells. In May, Turkish authorities claimed to have arrested a terrorist allegedly close to Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Bahdadi, who was killed in a US operation in 2019. The Turkish secret services (MIT) arrested him in Istanbul, where he arrived on a false passport. Since 2020, more than 2,000 people have been arrested for links to the terrorist group.