An international abduction programme does not become legal merely because the local justice systems are complicit.
Xhelal Sveçla, a senior opposition member of Kosovo’s parliament is clear on the point: “I can say that the evidence suggests that this is the most severe violation of our sovereignty since our declaration of independence. And it was committed by our own authorities.” As chairman of a parliamentary committee looking into the 29 March abductions, he is trying to get to the truth of the matter.
Kosovo is the beneficiary of significant official Turkish aid as well as private sector investment estimated at nearly 400 million euros in the past decade. The international airport of Pristina, for example, is owned by a Turkish businessman with close ties to Erdoğan. That adds up to considerable political clout.
Not all of the six men spirited out of Kosovo in March were forcibly taken from a car. Several were asked to report to local police stations that morning. CCTV footage from Pristina airport shows police escorting the six men through the airport building, their hands tied behind their backs, and then leading them to the private jet waiting on the tarmac.
The woman who jumped out of the car next to the tree nursery is Yasemin Karabina. She teaches at the same school as her abducted husband, Yusuf Karabina. Later that day, she called relatives of some of those who had been abducted in Turkey. They said that there had been no contact but that the authorities had already informed them that the six men had now been handed over to the courts in Turkey and had been asked if they wanted to nominate a lawyer. The families in Turkey did not believe this and continued to search for the six men.
A few hours after the abductions, staff and students from the Mehmet Akif school staged a protest at Pristina airport. Their chant: “Give us back our teachers !”
But what of the private jet used in the Pristina operation? An investigation by CORRECTIV and Frontal 21 strongly suggests that the aircraft involved, registration TC-KLE, is one of a fleet of planes linked to the Turkish intelligence service MIT. In the paperwork at Pristina airport, the crew left behind a document that named the jet’s owner: a Turkish construction and tourism company called Birleşik İnşaat Turizm Ticaret ve Sanayi. The company was also listed as the jet’s operator.
The Turkish business registry gives the company’s address as 61, Ahmet Hamdi Street in Yenimahalle, a suburb of Ankara. This is exactly where employees of the Turkish intelligence service MIT are housed. The MIT premises are just down the road.
The company would appear to be a thinly-veiled MIT front company. It did not respond to a request for comment. The aircraft TC-KLE has twice flown to Germany recently, in February 2017 and again September this year, according to radar data and pictures taken by plane spotters. Both flights coincided with a visit by President Erdoğan and a high-ranking government delegation to Germany.
Yasemin Karabina, the teacher in Kosovo, has had no contact with her husband in the eight months since the kidnapping. She has been told by lawyers that he is in solitary confinement at the Istanbul Silivri prison. He has not been charged with any crime. Once a month, there is a custody hearing, from which both relatives and lawyers are barred. They’re informed only of the decision: a further extension of custody.
Not every country has been as obliging as Kosovo. On 27 July of this year in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar, an abduction of Veysel Akçay, the head of a local Gülen school, failed after the authorities intervened.
Again, relatives raised alarms in social media and alerted local officials. At the last minute, the government prevented the jet from taking off with the victim. Akçay was released but no arrests were made, and Turkey denied involvement.
But local journalists took pictures of the aircraft: another Bombardier jet, type Challenger, registration this time TT-4010. The plane, it just so happens, is registered to the same construction and tourism company located close to the MIT headquarters in Ankara, according to Turkey’s civil aviation registry.