Ultranationalist gang escapes prosecution

Ultranationalist gang escapes prosecution

Association for the Union of Patriotic Forces President Tamer Ünal.

July 26, 2007, Thursday/ 20:36:00/ METİN ARSLAN
The deputy Ankara chief public prosecutor responsible for investigating terrorism and organized crime, ruled on Wednesday that the actions of an ultra-nationalist crime gang formed by retired army members did not constitute elements of “organized” crime, but rather “individual criminal deeds.”Deputy prosecutor Hamza Keleş said in his justification of the decision that the actions of the Association for the Union of Patriotic Forces (VKGB), a crime gang recently uncovered in the police counterterrorism operation dubbed “Whirl,” were merely “individual” crimes.

Despite Keles’s decision, the prosecutor who had completed the preliminary investigation, public prosecutor Alp Arslan, and the Ankara 14th Court have treated the VKGB as a terrorist organization. The court had accused the organization of “trying to weaken the independence and stability of the state,” amongst many other crimes. The existence of an armed wing of the association was a major reason for the prosecution to consider the VKGB a terrorist organization.

Fifteen suspects, including VKGB President Taner Ünal, were arrested during the initial investigation.

Following the prosecutor’s decision to consider the case outside its jurisdiction, all eyes turned to Arslan, who will consider the case in a review.

The investigation that began as part of Operation Whirl also revealed that some of the organization’s cell members who have not yet been detained were preparing acts of provocation ahead of the elections on July 22.

Links between the VKGB and retired high-ranking military officers have been under the spotlight since the first day of the investigation. Evidence showed that the VKGB united at some point with another nationalist organization, the Kuvayi Milliye (National Forces), in a ceremony led by Lt. Gen. Hasan Kundakçı, former commander of the Gendarmerie Regional Security Command.

Kuvayi Milliye made front-page news after footage was broadcast on the Internet showing its chairman, retired Col. Fikri Karadağ, leading an oath-to-kill-or-die ceremony. The pledge, taken with one hand on a rifle, is compulsory for new recruits.

A military prosecutor is also currently investigating the case due to the links revealed between the gang and retired officers.

Bombs match Cumhuriyet bombs

In related developments, hand grenades that were used in an attack at the İstanbul headquarters of the Cumhuriyet daily had serial numbers matching those found by the police in a shanty house being used as an arms depot in the Ümraniye district of İstanbul, a news site reported on Wednesday.

A number of retired army officers were arrested in connection with the ammunition depot, revealing gang involvement.

Fourteen other attacks were carried out with bombs from the same batch, according to a story appearing on the Gazeteport Web site. The site also said that results of the criminal investigation at the İstanbul Police Department were sent to the High Criminal Court in Beşiktaş. The investigation found that fingerprints found on the hand grenades in Ümraniye matched those of a retired noncommissioned officer by the name of Oktay Yıldırım.

Yıldırım had earlier been arrested as part of the investigation into the Ümraniye arms depot.

The serial numbers and the type of the hand grenades found in the Ümraniye house proved they were manufactured by Turkish state gun and ammunition producer MKE and were delivered to the Gendarmerie Command and the Land Forces in the years 1983 and 1999 in two different batches, the report said. The stock numbers and the batch numbers of the bombs used in the attack against Cumhuriyet proved they were also from the same batch.

Hand grenades from the same batch were also used in an attack in Trabzon that killed one and injured three in 1999, and an attack in İzmir last year that left one dead and wounded 12. The Web site noted that the information was strictly confidential but added that it would be added into the prosecutor’s indictment.

Anti-terror teams last month also located a house being used as arms depots in the central Anatolian town of Eskişehir.

An armed gang set up by former army officials, the likely owner of the gun depots, seems to be behind the 2006 attack on the Council of State that left one senior judge dead and the 1998 armed attack on the then chairman of the Human Rights Association (İHD), in addition to the Cumhuriyet bombing.

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