Istanbul, Hagia Sophia

Daesh leader arrested in Turkey planned an attack on Hagia Sophia

The self-proclaimed “emir” of Daesh in Turkey planned several attacks in Istanbul and kidnappings of tourists and politicians.

The self-proclaimed “emir” of Daesh in Turkey, detained by Turkish security forces, planned an attack against the Great Mosque of Hagia Sophia as well as kidnappings of prominent figures and politicians in the country to take them to Syria, according to information revealed by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu.

“During the last month or month and a half, Daesh was preparing for an attack in Hagia Sophia, in other economic places and in some associations in Istanbul,” Soylu said in statements to the Turkish press referring to the arrest of Mahmut Özden, who used the alias Abu Hamzi and was considered the “emir in Turkey” of the terrorist group.

“He has been detained since August 20. His interrogation has ended and he has made some confessions during interrogation, but more importantly, we were able to confiscate digital material,” Soylu said, adding that the terrorist group was trying to create terrorist cells of about 10 or 12 people each to carry out the attacks.

The digital material included instructions from Daesh leaders in Syria and Iraq as well as data on the organisation’s new structure in Turkey, including the targets of the attacks. Regarding the attack that was planned against Hagia Sophia, the minister questioned who is behind supporting Daesh.

Plans included kidnappings of tourists, prosecutors and politicians

“If Daesh is an (Islamic) terrorist group, then the normal thing is that they were not interested in Hagia Sophia. Maybe in a (non-Muslim) shrine. But the evidence about (an attack on Hagia Sophia) mosque shows what is the network behind Daesh like, and how should we understand it. What intelligence organisations are influencing the terrorist group? We should clarify this,” he said.

The encrypted Daesh messages sent from Syria and Iraq to the group’s “emir” in Turkey, and which have been decrypted by the police, included a large number of instructions; among them he was ordered to plan kidnappings of tourists, prosecutors and deputies, or to attack the İncirlik air base, among other plans. Özden was also looking to recruit new members in rural areas, where he planned to establish supply and accommodation networks for terrorists.

The 48-year-old leader of Daesh in Turkey received $7,000 for each new terrorist he was able to recruit for Daesh. Özden had already been arrested in 2017 for terrorist activities during a raid, and again in July 2019 for extorting local merchants in Adana; at that time, both he and other detainees claimed that they received financial aid from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

In addition to planning an attack on the Hagia Sophia mosque, the Daesh leader in Turkey also planned to carry out kidnappings of public and political figures in Turkey to transfer them to Syria, and then demand a ransom and the release of detained members of the terrorist group.