'Leader Of ISIS In Turkey' Sentenced To 14 Years In Prison For Terror Offenses; His Organization Continues To Operate Dozens Of Social Media Accounts - Including On Facebook, Instagram, And WhatsApp - And To Produce Videos And A Monthly Magazine

October 26, 2018 | By A. Smith

The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.

On June 27, 2018, the court board of the second criminal court of Sakarya province in Turkey sentenced Halis Bayancuk aka Ebu Hanzala to 12 years and six months in prison for the crime of "establishing and managing an armed terror organization" and to another year, six months, and 22 days for "organization propaganda," for a total sentence of 14 years and 22 days.[1]

A member of the Zaza ethnic group[2] born in 1984 in Diyarbakır, Turkey, Bayancuk had been arrested in 2008, 2011, 2014, 2015, and 2017[3] in police raids connected to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS), as well as in a raid connected to the 2003 truck bombings of the Bet Israel and Neve Shalom synagogues in Istanbul that killed 23. Though he was imprisoned for about five and a half out of the last 10 years, Bayancuk's June 2018 sentence is the longest he has received. Turkish media, including state-run media, consistently describe Bayancuk as the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Turkey.[4] In December 2014, a video surfaced in which Bayancuk said: "The Islamic State (ISIS) is our brother in faith. We count every attack against them as against ourselves. I believe that this war is a war of creed. I am with my brothers. I consider whoever does an attack against our brothers, to have done this attack against me. For this reason each of us must make our side on this issue clear."[5]

In May 2017, the Sakarya attorney general's office accused Bayancuk of operating a secret mosque to recruit members for ISIS.[6] A May 2018 indictment following an investigation in Diyarbakır stated that Bayancuk had said in his religious lectures that jihad is a religious obligation for all Muslims and that those who do not wage jihad are idolators. To those who wished to make jihad, he reportedly said: "Let's send you on jihad, we'll cover all the expenses."[7] Levent Uysal, who was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in planning the June 2016 attack that killed 46 people and wounded 163 at Istanbul's Atatürk Airport,[8] was found with audio and video recordings of Bayancuk's lectures on his phone.[9] Uysal said of Bayancuk: "Like my other teachers, Ebu Hanzala is one who gives Islamic knowledge. I listen to Ebu Hanzala to learn Islam."[10] According to Bayancuk's personal Twitter account, he is being held in the Silivri Closed Prison No. 9, located outside of Istanbul.[11]

Bayancuk's Twitter account says he is being held in the Silivri Closed Prison No. 9, located outside of Istanbul.

Bayancuk's writings and videos are shared and promoted on many Turkish-language Salafi-jihadi websites and social media accounts, but the content is first uploaded to two websites with which Bayancuk is personally associated. One, Tevhiddersleri.tv, hosts over 2,000 videos and audio recordings of his lectures, while the other, Tevhiddergisi.net, hosts his writings and those of 35 other writers who appear to share his Salafi-jihadi views, along with a monthly Salafi-jihadi magazine called Tevhid ("Monotheism"). Aside from their focus on Bayancuk's lectures and writing, the two websites also link to the same social media accounts, have the same "About Us" page, promote the same books, and share a similar appearance and writing style. Many videos on Tevhiddersleri.tv discuss jihad, and Tevhiddergisi.net offers books such as The Method Of The People Of The Sunnah And The Fundamentals Of Jihad, and Scenes From The Jihad Of The Prophet's Companions for sale and in PDF. Almost every issue of Tevhid magazine mentions jihad, while well over half of the issues have full articles on the subject.

Cover of Issue 33 of Tevhid magazine released in October 2014.[12]

Though the administrators of this collection of websites and social media accounts do not refer to themselves as such, they can be thought of as parts of a single organization and therefore will be referred to in this report as the Tevhid Organization. The Tevhid Organization has at least five websites: Tevhiddersleri.tv and Tevhiddergisi.net, which are mentioned above; Radyotevhid.net, which hosts the Internet radio station Radyo Tevhid ("Monotheism Radio"); Tevhidsiparis.com or Tevhid SipariÅŸ ("Monotheism Order"), which is an online bookstore offering hundreds of books as well as print copies of Tevhid magazine for sale; and a fifth website, Ebuhanzala.kim, describing Bayancuk's life and trial. Four of these five websites are hosted in Michigan, U.S., while the fifth, Tevhidsiparis.com, is hosted in Turkey.

Four of the organization's five websites are hosted in Michigan, while the fifth is hosted in Turkey.

The organization has at least 13 Twitter accounts, three Facebook pages, five Telegram channels, three YouTube channels, two Instagram accounts, two WhatsApp numbers, four mobile apps, a Google Plus account, and an account on the Denmark-based digital publishing platform Issuu. In total these platforms have approximately 113,000 followers, to whom they distribute Bayancuk's video lectures and issues of Tevhid magazine in PDF, as well as graphics and other content. Many of these accounts and pages include the Tevhid Organization's original material translated into other languages. The organization also has nine physical locations in five cities in Turkey, of which eight hold weekly meetings. On October 4, 2018, Turkish counter-terror police raided the Tevhid Organization's Ankara office.[13]

On October 4, 2018, Turkish counter-terror police raided the Tevhid Organization's Ankara office.

This report will review the organization's websites and the content they host as well as the social media accounts that distribute that content.

Main Website For Tevhid Dersleri ("Monotheism Lessons")

Tevhiddersleri.tv, the homepage of "Tevhid Dersleri [Monotheism Lessons]," hosts at least 2,252 videos, almost all of which are lectures, commentary, interviews, and Q&A by Bayancuk, and most of which are about 40 minutes long, though they range from two minutes to well over an hour.[14] There are also videos in Turkish on learning Arabic, street interviews, and a nasheed ("Islamic song"). The videos cover many subjects from a Salafi-jihadi standpoint, and are divided into categories, including: "Creed Lessons," "Commentary Lessons," "Islamic Jurisprudence Lessons," "Hadith Commentary," "Moral Lessons," and "Method Lessons." The page has an "Other Languages" section that includes pages for content in the English, Albanian, Georgian, Russian, German, French, Dutch, Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish, and Uzbek languages, though some of these pages are empty. The homepage of the website shows a picture of Bayancuk and, as of this writing, reads: "Teacher Ebu Hanzala has been imprisoned for 501 days in his last arrest and 2,081 days in total." This image is updated each day on the organization's websites and is shared on its many social media accounts.

The website has books for sale, among them The Method Of The People Of The Sunnah And The Fundamentals Of Jihad,[15] and Scenes From The Jihad Of The Prophet's Companions.[16] These books, which are 324 and 284 pages respectively, can be downloaded in PDF or bought. The links to buy the books go to a page on Tevhiddergisi.net, where the organization hosts most of its articles as well as its monthly magazine Tevhid. Tevhiddersleri.tv has recommended reading lists, 12 books by Bayancuk, and seven books by other authors available to buy or download.

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