15 October 2004
Islamic militant Metin Kaplan, who was extradited from Germany late Tuesday, is charged with armed attempt to overturn the constitutional order and sent to prison
ANKARA - Turkish Daily News
The Istanbul Court of Justice on Wednesday formally charged Islamic militant Metin Kaplan with treason for allegedly masterminding a failed 1998 plot to crash an airplane into the mausoleum of secular Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Kaplan, dubbed the "Caliph of Cologne" by his supporters, arrived in Istanbul late Tuesday, hours after a court in his longtime home of Germany ruled for his extradition. His group, the Caliphate State, which calls for the overthrow of Turkey's secular government to replace it with an Islamic state, is outlawed in Germany.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the Kaplan extradition and trial in Turkey was a judicial matter, noting that as the executive branch of the state, they could not comment on the proceedings.
Turkish authorities allege Kaplan plotted in October 1998 to smash an explosives-laden aircraft into Ataturk's mausoleum, which covers an entire hilltop in Ankara, when thousands of officers, students and foreign dignitaries would be visiting the site for a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the secular republic.
They say the plot was foiled when Turkish police arrested 23 suspected members of Kaplan's group the day before the ceremony.
Kaplan has denied the allegation.
He has, however, declared a jihad, or "holy war," against the secular Turkish republic.
The Istanbul court charged Kaplan with "armed attempt to overturn the constitutional order," a charge that amounts to treason. Kaplan faces 13 charges which were united within a single case and if convicted, he could face a sentence of life imprisonment.
Kaplan, speaking after the reading of charges, said that we would be utilizing his right to remain silent. Kaplan's lawyer Husnu Tuna said that he was yet to talk with his client and asked the court to give him time to do so.
Kaplan was sent to a prison where he is expected to remain until the outcome of a trial. No date has been set yet.
Cicek: Kaplan's trial will be fair
Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said on Wednesday that Kaplan's extradition from Germany was carried out in accordance with the European Convention of the Extradition of Criminals, adding that they were always very sensitive on the extradition of individuals who were wanted in Turkey.
He said: "Kaplan is now in Turkey. I assure you that we will bring other wanted fugitives back to Turkey. Now it's up to the judiciary to try the individual. No one should have doubts. Kaplan's trial will be fair and in accordance with the rule of law. You will be able to follow what goes on from the media, because in Turkey judicial proceedings are transparent."
When asked if Turkey found it hard to persuade other countries to extradite wanted fugitives to Turkey, he said such matters had always proceeded slowly, adding: "In matters of organized crime, drugs and human trafficking and terrorism, if the international community cooperated more fully, we would get results much faster."
German police detained Kaplan Tuesday at an Internet cafe in Cologne and hustled him to the airport in Duesseldorf.
Kaplan had asked the German court to reinstate his status as a political asylum seeker, but the court refused, clearing the way for extradition. It gave Kaplan two weeks to seek legal recourse, but officials said he could also do that from Turkey.
Kaplan had served a four-year German prison sentence for incitement in the killing of a rival cleric in Berlin in 1997, but had been free since May 2003.
Kaplan took over Caliphate State from his father, Cemaleddin, who died in 1995. Cemaleddin fled Turkey after a 1980 military coup and founded the group in 1984 after gaining political refugee status in Germany with his family. German security officials say Kaplan has about 800 followers in Germany.
His extradition had been delayed by German courts' concerns that his followers have been subjected to torture in Turkey and that he could face political persecution.
Kaplan's extradition to Turkey was made possible after Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2002. Turkey has introduced measures to crack down on torture to meet European Union conditions for membership, but rights groups say torture still occurs in the country.
Turkey last year assured the German government that Kaplan would get a fair trial.
His group was banned on Dec. 12, 2002, marking the first time that German authorities used tougher anti-terror laws approved after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
No connection has been established between Kaplan's group and the Sept. 11 attacks. But German investigators have said that some members traveled to Afghanistan to meet with supporters of alleged mastermind Osama bin Laden in 1996 or 1997.