The investigation into an Iran-backed deadly terrorist organization in Turkey has uncovered the organization’s connection to the failed bombing attack against an Israel Embassy staff member in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on Feb. 2012.
According to information gathered in the comprehensive three-year probe into the Tawhid-Salam cells working for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force in Turkey, Naser Ghafari, one of the commanders assigned to Turkey by the IRGC, instructed a key suspect in the Tawhid-Salam organization to conduct surveillance in Tbilisi.
Naser Ghafari operates under the cover of a diplomatic passport attached to the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul.
According to the case file, Ghafari gave the order to Hüseyin Yazıcıoğlu, a Turkish citizen who has been working for Iranian intelligence, on Oct. 15, 2011. Acting on instructions from an Iranian handler, Yazıcıoğlu booked a flight to Tbilisi scheduled for Nov. 14, 2011. The flight was later rescheduled for Nov. 30 and again rescheduled for Jan. 4.
With a court-approved surveillance order, Turkish investigators also gained access to the email account of Yazıcıoğlu and discovered a series of photos sent to him on Oct. 18, 2011 by Turkish citizen Erol Ünaldı. The photos showed landmark places in and around Tbilisi such as the park across from the Radisson Blue hotel and metro stations, among others.
In one of the pictures sent to Yazıcıoğlu’s email, police were able to identify the license plate of Ünaldı’s car. The car, with the license number 34 BJ 4352, was logged by customs officials at the Artvin Sarp border crossing, and the record indicated that Ünaldı entered into Georgia on Nov. 2, 2011 and exited Georgia on Nov. 13, 2011. The investigators concluded that Ünaldı had scouted targets in Tbilisi to identify meeting points with Yazıcıoğlu.
All this activity had been recorded before the foiled bomb attack in Tbilisi on Feb. 13, 2012, when a bomb was found under the car of a Georgian employee of the Israeli embassy in Tbilisi. The car was located near the embassy and police defused the explosive without incident. The same day, in a separate incident, the wife of an Israeli diplomat was injured in a car bomb explosion in New Delhi. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of being responsible for both incidents.
Turkish police discovered that the attack targeting the Israeli Consulate General in İstanbul’s Etiler neighborhood in May 2011 — which resulted in serious injuries but no fatalities — was also staged by the Iran-backed terrorist group. Using street camera recordings, police were able to trace a bomb-laden bike to a storage unit in İstanbul’s Fatih district that had been rented using a false identity by Rezazadeh Metin, an Iranian with the Quds Force.
The bomb in Etiler was supplied by Abdurrahman Çelik, who had previously been convicted of killing two opponents of the Iranian regime in Turkey and given a prison sentence of 12-and-half years, though he was released in 2004 following an amnesty agreement by Erdoğan’s government.
In his testimony, Çelik admitted that he had been trained in Iran to stage attacks in Turkey and conduct intelligence operations on behalf of Iran for over two months. He also acknowledged that the Iran-based Quds Force had obtained bombs from him and had staged attacks in Georgia and Thailand.
The Tawhid-Salam network allegedly reaches higher-ups in the Turkish government. The politically motivated witch hunt against police investigators who uncovered highly secretive cells in the network publically revealed damaging details from the prosecutors’ confidential investigation files. Embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tried to downplay the significance of the revelation as his government attempted to cover up the investigation by reshuffling police investigators and prosecutors assigned to the case.
Tawhid-Salam was designated a terrorist organization in Turkey by higher courts. Several members of the organization — which was charged for killing leading intellectuals and attacking Western, Israeli, Arab and other diplomatic targets in Turkey — were sentenced to prison terms in early 2000.
It appears that sleeper cells were reactivated in Turkey starting in 2008. The names of a number of Turkish and Iranian suspects, some of whom hold high positions in Erdoğan’s government, have been revealed in recent media reports and put the government in a difficult position.