Two Chechens who were accused of beheading three priests in Syria avoided sentencing on murder charges, though they were sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for being a member of a terror organization by an Istanbul court.
Magomet Abdurakmanov and Ahmad Ramzanov, two Chechens who were captured in Istanbul’s Bağcılar district on July 4, 2013, along with three Turkish nationals, were accused of murdering three priests in Syria two years ago. However, the court did not hand down a murder sentence on the ground that “the crime was not committed against Turkey and the lack of an agreement on extraditions.”
The prosecutor accused Abdurakmanov and Ramzanov of beheading Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos Yaziji and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, who were kidnapped on April 22, 2013, by armed men en route from the Turkish border. They were also accused of murdering another priest in Syria.
An Istanbul court sentenced the two men to seven and a half years in prison each with charges of being a member of the terror organization. However, the two Chechens will only serve two years in prison due to the Turkish penal code, which automatically lowers prison sentences.
A police criminal report said Abdurakmanov might be one of the militants in a video which was uploaded on YouTube allegedly showing the beheading of two priests.
The prosecutor’s office demanded information from the Turkish Justice Ministry on July 22, 2013. The ministry responded on Aug. 26, 2013, saying the prosecution over the murders of three priests could not go ahead because “the crime was not committed against Turkey and the lack of agreement on extraditions.”
They could, however, still be charged for being a member of a terror organization.
Lawyer Erdal Doğan, however, claimed at the time beheading priests should be regarded as a crime against humanity and should be prosecuted by Turkey. Former Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Erol Dora, who was also Turkey’s first Syriac lawmaker in parliament, had filed a parliamentary question over the issue at the time.
Three Turkish nationals, Mevlüt Kuşman, Abdullah Kuşman and Sait Alp were detained along with two Chechens militants, and allegedly helped them travel from the Reyhanlı district of southeastern Hatay province to Istanbul.
Mevlüt Kuşman was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for being a member of a terror organization, four years and two months for possessing explosive material in his house and one year and three months in prison for possessing an unlicensed gun.
Meanwhile, Abdurakmanov told the court that he had received support from Turkish intelligence when he was in Syria, adding he was fighting against the Syrian regime forces. He denied the accusations of murdering the three priests or being a member of al-Qaeda.
“Turkish intelligence would not help me if I was a member of al-Qaeda. We were in contact with Turkish intelligence all the time. Turkey sent us arms, cars and money when we were fighting in Syria. Turkey was helping us because we were fighting against [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad,” said Abdurakmanov.