Adnan Oktar, an Islamic television host long accused of running a “sex cult” in Turkey, was arrested on Wednesday along with over one hundred of his supporters, many among them his scantily-clad female accomplices he calls “kittens.”
Oktar has hosted a television program for years on his A9 television network, where he reportedly preached “Islamic values” while surrounded by dozens of young, volumptuous women who would dance for him throughout the broadcast. Turkish prosecutors are accusing him of sexual assault against many of his followers, some still minors, among a long list of other crimes that includes “military espionage,” fraud, money laundering, and blackmail.
Prosecutors issued 234 warrants for members of his organization and raided over 100 homes on Wednesday seeking the suspects out, according to Turkish media.
Oktar’s arrest is the first major anti-crime operation under Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since he assumed unprecendented new powers Monday as part of the country’s shift from a parliamentary to a presidential system. Erdoğan advocated for the new system arguing that he needed great power to rule by decree and conduct anti-criminal operations in the aftermath of the failed 2016 coup against his administration, which he blames on Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Erdoğan has spent years trying to convince Washington to extradite Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania. Gulen denies that he had any involvement in the coup attempt.
Some observers have posited that Oktar’s arrest is a sign that the newly emboldened Erdoğan—who once said,”There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. There is only one Islam”—will no longer tolerate alternative interpretations of the faith.
Oktar’s presentations on television were far from the norm for Islamic preachers. In religious ideology, Oktar distinguished himself by making the promotion of an anti-evolution philosophy the core of his teachings, and has reportedly sent free copies of his book on creationism to hundreds of famous scientists around the world. To protect himself from attacks from skeptics, he reportedly filed over 5,000 defamation lawsuits in the past decade.
Much of the airtime he took up had little to do with that or any other religious teaching, however, instead used to showcase his “kittens,” his nickname for the young women on his television program. The show featured extensive segments with no dialogue, instead showcasing the seductive dancing of one of the “kittens” for Oktar while the others cheered her on. Turkey’s government broadcast watchdog shut the program down in February for allegedly violating women’s rights.
The pro-Erdoğan newspaper Sabah reports that Oktar and what pro-government outlets are now referring to as the “Adnan Oktar Criminal Organization” are being charged with “a long list of crimes, from running a criminal organization to political and military espionage, from sexual abuse of minors to blackmail … money laundering, fraud, exploiting religious values for fraud, bribery, blackmail, violation of privacy, insult and violation of counter-terrorism laws and laws against violence towards women.”
Hurriyet reports that the criminal complaints against Oktar state that victims of sexual assault and blackmail range in age from 11 to 40 and prosecutors have charged Oktar with 31 crimes.
Sabah claims that police found an extensive weapons cache in Oktar’s compound, including not just firearms but armored vehicles, which prosecutors claim were used in part to scare cult victims out of trying to escape, or catching them if they did try to run away. The Hurriyet reports that the multiple bodyguards and security employed to protect Oktar “briefly” resisted the police but ultimately let them through.
Oktar told reporters following his arrest that he was the victim of “a plot of the British deep state,” without elaborating.
Most of those arrested along with Oktar appear to be members of his cult, including a woman Hurriyet describes as his “kitten-in-chief,” Didem Ürer. Tarkan Yavaş, a man police described as one of Oktar’s closest confidantes, escaped and police consider him armed and dangerous.
The Jerusalem Post, citing new language in the Turkish state-run Anadolu News Agency to describe the Oktar cult, posits that Erdoğan may be making an example out of Oktar in the “new era” of presidential rule. The Post notes that Oktar is also being accused of violating a new anti-terrorism law that grants Erdoğan expansive powers to go after Gulen’s supporters.
“It appears that the raids were timed to take place after the latest presidential inauguration in which the Turkish presidency has more powers than before,” the Post notes. “This points to the fact that the leadership in Ankara feels that distractions like A9—or the controversial dancing that was done in an ‘Islamic’ context on its programs—are no longer palatable.”