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Police cracks down on obscure sect

by Amberin Zaman

When Ebru Simsek, one of Turkey’s best known fashion models, went on a date with a handsome young businessman here five years ago, little did she know that she would come to regret accepting his offer for the rest of her life. Simsek, a curvaceous bottle blonde, with striking blue eyes, thought she was going with her new boyfriend to a friend’s birthday party.

Instead, says Simsek she found herself at a villa overlooking the Bosphorus Straits, drugged and naked with a gun pointed to her head.

Like so many attractive, young women here, Simsek had been targetted by Adnan Oktar, a self proclaimed Islamic cleric or imam who leads a, virulently anti-semitic sect known as the "Science and Research Foundation". Duped by Oktar’s businessman disciple Simsek was to have become the latest addition to his harem. "Oktar told me that unless I did as he bade I would be killed."

Simsek only came forward with her story after Oktar was arrested together with 84 of his disciples on Nov. 12 on charges of setting up an "illegal gang." They were rounded up during a massive, top secret, operation involving 2000 policemen who carried out simultaneous midnight raids in 40 districts across Istanbul. The disciples were released after interrogation. But Oktar was locked up in an Istanbul jail where he is awaiting trial on charges of blackmail and extortion. Turkish interior minister, Sadettin Tantan, said of Oktar after the operation: "He is more dangerous than [Kurdish rebel chief] Apo."

Oktar’s followers have sought to portray his detention as part of a conspiracy orchestrated by a former interior minister, and independent lawmaker Mehmet

Agar, whose name has been linked to organized crime and death squad type killings by ultra-nationalist hit men.

Others say that it is part of army-backed crackdown against the country’s secretive Muslim brotherhoods or tarikats. Officially banned by modern Turkey’s secularizing founder, Kemal Ataturk, the brotherhoods or tarikats continue to wield huge influence over Turkish society and their support is viewed as crucial by political parties in gaining votes especially in the conservative. Anataolian hinterland.

Even the most hardened Islamists agree, however, that Oktar, 43, is a charlatan and that his arrest was long overdue. "He shamelessly used our holy prophet and religion to enrich himself and indulge in the utmost degeneracy," said a prominent lawmaker from the Islam-based Virtue Party. The lawmaker, who asked not to be named said that he had been approached by various members of the sect several years ago.

He immediately severed all ties after an Oktar disciple, when queried by his female secretary about their philosophy, responded: "Sex, my dear."

When police raided his opulent mini-palace, garishly decorated with gilded Ottoman style divans, gushing fountains, marble cherubs, and guarded by vicious doberman pinschers they found a huge library of pornographic cassettes allegedly showing famous singers, actors, businessmen and politicians in compromising circumstances.

Oktar allegedly used the tapes to blackmail his victims, who for the most part had been lured by his disciples armed with hidden cameras. "A lot of very very prominent personalities are very very nervous," the Islamist lawmaker said.

Details of how and when Oktar set up his sect remain sketchy. Oktar’s activities first drew attention when Gulay Pinarbasi, formerly Turkey’s top lingerie model, traded in her lacey underwear for a dowdy Islamic style raincoat or "palto" and headscarf to become one of his most loyal followers.

A corpulent university drop out with a leonine shock of shoulder length gray hair Oktar, preyed on rich, good looking and mainly confused teenagers, enticing them first with promises of "spiritual healing" and soon after hooking them with free cocaine and orgies, according to Turkish press reports.

Oktar would then send out his disciples to the latest high society haunts to reel in fresh recruits. Those who refused to cooperate like Simsek, were blackmailed into doing so. "They filmed me without my clothes on after drugging me and threatened to release the tapes if I did not sleep with them, so I did," Simsek was quoted as saying in her testimony to Istanbul police.

According to Simsek, members of Oktar’s 50 strong harem would like Pinarbasi dress modestly in public and flit around in slinky Versace evening dresses in his palace. True to Ottoman tradition there was a rigid pecking order with the "sisters" who had their pick of lovers both male and female at the top and the "drones" who, according to Simsek "used by everyone" at the bottom.

"The connection with Islam was very obscure."

8 December 1999

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