One of the first reported casualties of the US-led bombing campaign earlier this week was a jihadist known as Abu Yusuf al Turki.
As The Long War Journal reported on Sept. 23, online jihadists described al Turki as an Al Nusrah Front “commander” who trained fighters how to become snipers. Al Nusrah is al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria. A “martyrdom” photo of him was published on al Qaeda-affiliated social media sites just hours after the first bombing raids.
Al Turki was a veteran jihadist who fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. And online jihadists posted photos of al Turki showing him waging jihad in multiple locations.
In the days following the airstrikes on Al Nusrah Front locations, which housed al Qaeda’s so-called “Khorasan group,” additional details about al Turki’s career have come to light.
One jihadist Twitter feed linked to a video purportedly showing al Turki’s trainees in Syria as they prepared for their sniper missions. The video can be seen above.
But the most intriguing details of al Turki’s past came from Turkish press reports, which identified him as taking part in a putative plot to attack the NATO summit in late June 2004.
Today’s Zaman, a publication based in Istanbul, reports that al Turki’s real name was Ümit Yaşar Toprak. Today’s Zaman goes on to report that he was one of suspected terrorists “detained by the Bursa police in April 2004 on suspicions of planning to assassinate then-US President George W. Bush during the president’s visit to İstanbul to attend a NATO summit.”
The plot was mentioned in the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism for 2004. “Turkish authorities announced that they had foiled a plot to attack the NATO Summit in Istanbul,” the report reads. “Turkey charged nine alleged members of the Ansar al-Islam ter- rorist group — which has ties to al Qaeda — with planning the bombing.”
Abu Yusuf al Turki (Toprak) was indeed arrested in 2004 alongside his brother and others. Contemporaneous press accounts identify his brother, Alpaslan Toprak, as the ringleader of the plot.
They reportedly intended to launch a mass casualty attack on the NATO summit and then disappear into Iraq, where they would wage jihad against American troops. Both then President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair attended the summit, and the jihadists at least considered an attempt on Bush’s life.
In early May 2004, the Associated Press reported that Turkish authorities had detained members of the Toprak brothers’ cell, all of whom were identified as members of Ansar al Islam, a jihadist group based in northern Iraq that has been linked to al Qaeda. The AP cited the governor of the Bursa province in northwestern Turkey, Oguz Kagan Koksal, as saying that the cell had “also planned to attack a synagogue in Bursa and rob a bank.”
An account by Agence France Presse summarized Koksal’s press conference on the arrests, noting that a raid on the “suspects’ homes and offices netted home-made pipe bombs, materials used for making explosives, CDs featuring Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda militants in training and subversive documents.”
“The organization has been neutralized in a successful operation while in the stage of planning attacks,” Koksal said, according to AFP.
A separate report by the AP cited a Turkish newspaper, which quoted Alpaslan Toprak as saying, “One of us said ‘if only Bush’s death were at our hands.’ That’s how this issue arose.”
Other accounts in Turkey said that one of the suspects, who was unnamed, had spent six years in Pakistan, where he had received training.
Part of the reason Turkish authorities considered the plot to be serious is that they suspected it was connected to Ansar al Islam’s other attacks. On Feb. 1, 2004, two suicide bombers killed dozens in an attack on Kurdish politicians in the city of Erbil, Iraq.
Abu Yusuf al Turki was released from prison in short order and acquitted. He reportedly tried to blame their suspected plotting on a hatred for America’s foreign policy, telling the press, “We hated and cursed the offensive policies of US and Israel.”
Al Turki eventually joined the Al Nusrah Front in Syria. And, according to jihadists, he was a highly respected instructor within the al Qaeda group’s ranks.
Below are some of the photos of Abu Yusuf al Turki that were posted on jihadist social media sites this week.
This picture below allegedly shows al Turki in Afghanistan. The accompanying tweet describes him as the lead of the Al Nusrah Front’s sniper brigade.
The photo below shows al Turki (on the right) with one of his sniper trainees. The garb worn by the trainee is the same as that shown in the video at the top of this article. The photo has been altered by jihadists to include al Turki’s “martyrdom” image. The black flag of Al Nusrah can be seen in the background.