A Turkish woman who was indicted on al-Qaeda charges and lost her husband in a jihadist battle in Syria continues preaching jihad in Turkey, apparently with the support of the ruling Islamist party.
Aysun Çakır, who speaks Urdu and Arabic in addition to Turkish, was red-flagged by authorities for jihadist activities and investigated by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2011. She was later indicted and tried on terrorism charges.
Yet, despite her record in militant jihadist campaigns, she was invited as a speaker at a panel discussion organized on September 17, 2019 by the Oriental Research Center of Istanbul University, where she talked about a resistance movement in Kashmir.
She has recently been active in a network that was established in theology faculties at universities across Turkey under the name of Türkiye İlahiyatlar Platformu (Seminaries Platform of Turkey, or TÜIP). On September 30, 2020 she gave a lecture that was broadcast live on TÜIP’s Instagram account.
The network appears to have secured the support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). A TÜIP Instagram account featured a post that showed TÜIP’s manager was received by AKP Youth Branches Chairman Ahmet Büyükgümüş in January 2021.
Çakır’s activities on such Islamist platforms is nothing new. According to a classified Istanbul police department document dated May 20, 2011, she established a group called Ensar Kardeşlik Platformu (Ansar Brotherhood Platform) on social media to protest the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by the US military in Pakistan on May 1, 2011.
The police assessment concluded that the platform members subscribed to al-Qaeda ideology, rejected secular and democratic governance in Turkey, promoted jihadist campaigns and helped raise funds and recruit fighters for al-Qaeda. The group’s focus shifted from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Syria when the jihadists found a new cause in the Syrian conflict and started sending Turkish fighters to join al-Qaeda groups, especially the al-Nusra Front.
Her husband Ahmet Zorlu (aka Emir Seyyaf) was killed at the age of 30 in Syria’s Aleppo province while fighting with al-Nusra against regime forces in March 2013. Zorlu led a team of Turkish jihadists to Syria and was killed in clashes in Khan al-Assal along with five other Turkish nationals.
A wiretap dated April 30, 2012 revealed that Çakır told a friend about a conversation she had with her husband, who complained about Çakır’s postings on Facebook that got him in trouble with Turkish authorities. Her husband asked her to shut down the Facebook account, saying that the messages would not help the jihadist cause. He asked Çakır to be cautious and warned that she could go to jail as well because of her revelations on social media.
Çakır’s friend, Fadime Taşkıran, accused her of having “loose lips” and asked her to stop talking openly on the phone. “OK, just shut up. What a stupid person you are. Aysun, you have loose lips,” Taşkıran told Çakır.
In subsequent phone conversations, Çakır appeared to be more cautious. In a wiretap dated May 2, 2012 her friend Sümeyye Bartın called Çakır and said: “What happened with the jihad business? Will you do Hijrat [travel to a jihadist region]?” Çakır responded, ‘Hush up.” Bartın said she would be quiet and agreed that she should have been more careful after all that had happened.
Çakır tried to be less forthcoming in her conversations on the phone after her husband was detained by the police and later released by the court pending trial. He fled Turkey and joined the al-Nusra Front in Syria.
A police investigation found that Çakır’s Ansar Brotherhood Platform had organized a public funeral prayer for bin Laden on May 6, 2011. She also joined a similar event in Ankara. According to police intelligence, she was involved in planning a protest rally in front of the US Consulate General in Istanbul on May 12, 2011, but only four people showed up since the police had a heavy presence around the consulate building.
Among 18 people identified as being part of the Ansar Brotherhood Platform, Çakır was listed as the number one suspect. The rest of the jihadists were Fevzi Akduman, Arzu Albayrak, Eyip Kılıç, İdris Şentürk, Mürsel Gül, Salih Çakıl, Taner Birdal, Zeki Şahin, Deniz Koçak, Alper Namlıgezoğlu, Fadime Taşkıran, Seyhun Ali Akçay, Buket Kent, Muhammet Yusuf Armağan and Yusuf Aliş.
As the investigation expanded, more operatives were identified by the police. They were listed as Mevlana Celalettin Attar, Eyip Yılmaz, Halit Arslan, Uğur Çardaklı, Okan Dikmen, Selim Akdemir, Metin Acar, Muhammet Akbaba, Feytullah Avcı, Emrah Gülbahar, Zeynep Olğaç, Sümeyye Olğaç, Murat Çiftçi, İbrahim Süral, Bülent Yarıcı, Ahmet Zorlu, Saygın Şemenoğlu and Tarık Gürkan Çevik.
The group also had cells in Ankara with which Çakır was involved. She made a trip from Istanbul to take part in a rally in Ankara on behalf of bin Laden. An indictment filed for seven members of the Ansar Brotherhood Platform at the Ankara 12th High Criminal Court in 2012 showed that one member named Deniz Koçak, a chemistry student, was in the process of building an improvised explosive device at home. The police discovered the necessary chemical ingredients when they raided his home.
During the trial proceedings Çakır remained defiant and rejected the authority of the court and Turkish law, declaring that the laws of the Turkish Republic were against Allah’s rules. She acknowledged that she was the founder of the Ansar Brotherhood Platform. Surprisingly, the trial prosecutor requested the acquittal of all suspects in the case. The court released them in June 2013.
The group remained active in the following years. On January 16, 2015 the Ansar Brotherhood Platform held a prayer at the Fatih Mosque for brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, who carried out the deadly Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. The group carried banners featuring a picture of bin Laden and described the brothers as heroes, threatening more attacks in the future.