When police arrested Magomed Abdurrahmanov in Turkey about a year ago, word spread quickly that the suspected kidnapper of two prominent Syrian bishops had been caught.
The Turkish government, however, said the man they had arrested, and his companions, were nothing to worry about. Officials said they were foreigners with improper documents, and had been deported. They continue to say nothing further about the incident.
A document provided to World Watch Monitor, however, provides evidence that Turkey’s internal security network already knew Abdurrahmanov was suspected of the April 2013 kidnapping of the two high-profile Christian clerics, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Youhanna Ibrahim, and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi. Their disappearance has shaken the already traumatized and diminishing Christian community that remains in Syria amid its brutal civil war, and their fate remains unknown.
The document, crafted by the intelligence unit of Turkish foreign office and sent to security agencies across Turkey, says “information indicates” that men belonging to Ketibet-�l Muhajirin, a group acting as part of the al-Nusra Front, the Syrian wing of al-Qaida, had commandeered the car carrying the two bishops outside Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, then disappeared.
The leader of Ketibet-�l Muhajirin is Abu Banat, a name used by Abdurrahmanov, a native of Dagestan in Russia’s Caucasus region. The al-Nusra elements active in Syria include foreign fighters from across the Middle East, Europe and North Africa.
In the weeks after the kidnappings, an internet video had surfaced, showing Abdurrahmanov cutting the head off one of three men identified as Christians. The Turkish intelligence document references the gruesome video, notes the presence of Chechen jihadists, and identifies Abdurrahmanov as the “possible” executioner.
The document was created July 3, the day before Abdurrahmanov and another Russian citizen were, according to a separate police interrogation document, arrested in an apartment in Istanbul’s Bagcilar district.
The claim that the Turkish government supports the rebels in the civil war against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad is widely and openly speculated in the region. The July 2013 police record of its interrogation of Abdurrahmanov has been publicly available since December. In February, the Assyrian International News Agency reported that Abdurrahmanov told his police interrogators that he was the man who executed one of the three “men of religion” in the video. The agency also reported that Abdurrahmanov told the police that “a man I believed to be a Turkish secret agent” had supplied him with the two-way radios found in his possession at the time of his arrest.
As early as September 2013, a young Turkish lawyer, Erkan Metin, an Assyrian Christian who found the government’s official story about Abdurrahmanov to be lacking, reported on an Assyrian research website that Istanbul police confirmed they had been holding Abdurrahmanov in a prison cell since his arrest.
A murkiness fills the gap between the government’s version of events – that a few wayward foreigners with improper documents were apprehended not in July, but in April and then kicked out of the country – and the contradictory details that have been pieced together by Metin and others about Abdurrahmanov, his continued detention in Turkey, and his connection to anti-Christian jihadist violence.
Even a member of Turkey’s parliament, an Assyrian Christian named Erol Dora, has asked Prime Minister Recep Erdogan to explain Turkey’s connection to the man suspected of the kidnappings and the beheadings. To date, there has been no response.
The July 2013 document, which Metin provided to World Watch Monitor and several non-English news agencies, sheds light on what the Turkish intelligence apparatus knew about Magomed Abdurrahmanov when police laid hands on him July 4, 2013.
“This shows that Turkey knew . . . which organization had taken them,” Metin said. “Thereafter the alleged kidnapper arrives in Turkey and during interrogation he tells them he was given the equipment to coordinate the actions by the Turkish intelligence agency.”
“I think Turkey is trying to silence the situation because they are in support of the opposition and groups such as Abu Banat’s. It is a massive scandal if two archbishops have been kidnapped and killed by a group who have been provided with equipment from the Turkish intelligence agency,” he said.
It’s not clear that the bishops have been killed. In March, Lebanon’s director-general of security, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, told the Al-Raya Qatari newspaper that “all efforts are being exerted to resolve this humanitarian case.”
The Istanbul police interrogation documents indicate Abdurrahmanov was picked up on suspicion of violating weapons and terrorism laws. It indicates binoculars, cartridge belts, four walkie-talkies and three black shawls were found in the apartment where he was arrested. The questioning, however, does not probe deeply his claimed connection to Turkish intelligence.
Note: In an earlier version of this story, the July 3 Turkish intelligence document was reported to contain evidence that the government had, even earlier than that date, knowledge of the identity of the kidnapping suspects. That assertion has been removed, upon re-examination of the document.