The Turkish government has chosen not to convict a pair of Chechen Islamists on murder charges after they beheaded three Christian priests.
The terrorists, Magomet Abdurakmanov and Ahmad Ramzanov, were arrested in Istanbul on July 4. They were convicted by a Turkish court for being members of an illegal jihadist group, and will serve seven-and-a-half years in prison.
The pair is perhaps best known for allegedly beheading Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, two bishops who went missing in Aleppo, Syria, in April, 2013. They were the most senior church officials targeted by Islamist rebels at that point in the war.
Ibrahim, who is an Orthodox archbishop, is perhaps best known for his stance in favor of religious toleration in the face of the sectarian conflict dividing Syria.
“Let us hope and pray that the profound effects of civil war will not be so great as to prevent the recovery and survival of our ‘Dialogue of Life’ and our civilized coexistence,” the archbishop once wrote.
Some reports also accuse the Chechens of executing a third Christian priest in Syria.
The Turkish government said that they could not prosecute the executions because “the crime was not committed against Turkey.”
Abdurakmanov, for his part, is denying the charges’ validity. During the trial, he claimed to be one of the moderate rebels fighting in Syria that the Turkish government had been supporting.
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.
Chechnya, the Russian province from where Abdurakmanov and Ramzanov hail, has become a breeding ground for Islamic terrorism. For instance, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the boys who planned the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, was radicalized in Chechnya.
Some critics claim that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, known by the acronym AKP, are deeply rooted in Islamist ideology.
Once, before coming to power, for instance, Erdogan publicly read a poem which said, “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”
Although they recently suffered a blow at national polls and lost part of their supermajority, AKP remains very much in power in Turkey.