Terrorist being tried in Turkey masterminded attacks on Jewish and UK targets which killed 61 - called for Bigley beheading
May 2, 2006
The al-Qaida fighter shaped by demagogues and plastic surgeons
· Zarqawi associate linked to bombings that killed 61
Ian Cobain in Istanbul
He is a man whose thinking was shaped by Islamist preachers and demagogues in Damascus and Kabul, while his face was shaped by a series of plastic surgeons in Turkey, Syria and, possibly, Germany.
Sakka stands trial next month, accused of financing four suicide bombings in Istanbul. Sixty-one people died in the November 2003 attacks on the British consulate general, the local headquarters of HSBC bank, and two synagogues. More than 600 were injured; some survivors still receive psychiatric help.
He admits attempting to build a massive bomb for a planned attack on an Israeli cruise liner in the Mediterranean. He also says he fought alongside Abu Musab al-Zarqawi at Falluja, proudly acknowledges killing a number of American soldiers, and is alleged to have been involved in the beheading of a Turkish truck driver.
While he denies any role in the Istanbul bombings, Sakka makes no attempt to conceal the blood on his hands. Appearing in court in Istanbul last month he refused to stand before the judge. "Why should I?" he shouted. "I have fought the jihad. I have killed Americans!"
Now Sakka also claims to have played a role in the death of Kenneth Bigley. The terrorist's lawyer, Osman Karahan, says his client was a member of the gang that held the 62-year-old contractor from Liverpool for three weeks before murdering him in October 2004.
"He was one of the men who interrogated Bigley. He says they put Bigley on trial, found him guilty and executed him," Mr Karahan told the Guardian. "My client was the chief of the court. He wants Mr Bigley's family to know that he was not killed for no reason. This was justice. If he had committed a serious offence in the United States, he would have been executed, and it was the same for him in Iraq."
What "charge" Mr Bigley faced during the mock trial is not clear. Nor has Sakka revealed the whereabouts of the Briton's remains, although his lawyer says he knows where they lie.
Sakka says Zarqawi ordered Mr Bigley's death when he realised the British government would not agree to his demands for the release of all female prisoners being held by US and British forces.
Mr Karahan, a fellow Islamist, is happy to confirm many of his client's worst offences. Indeed, being interviewed at his sixth-storey office overlooking the Galatasaray football stadium, he said: "He's a master of disguise. He's another Carlos."
Mr Karahan says that his client has a wife and three children and, until the mid-1990s, worked for his father, a successful detergent company owner in Aleppo, northern Syria. It was while working as the company's salesman in Damascus that he appears to have come into contact with those who were to propel him towards Afghanistan.
Sakka, 33, who has a Turkish grandfather and speaks Turkish, is thought to have helped train would-be terrorists at a camp for Turkish mujahideen on the Afghan-Pakistan border. He says he met Osama bin Laden, and it appears likely that he would have come into contact with the man who would mastermind the Istanbul attacks, Habib Akdas, a Turkish veteran of the Afghan jihad.
At some point in the late 90s Sakka moved to Turkey, where he began acquiring forged and stolen passports to aid the passage of other militants. He claims to have obtained passports for some of the 9/11 attackers. Turkish police believe he entered the country 55 times over 10 years, using 18 different identities.
After comparing photographs in some of the passports used by Sakka, and then examining him at Istanbul's Kandira high- security prison, police realised he had undergone extensive plastic surgery.
His main role in the Istanbul attacks, according to prosecutors, was to provide $160,000 to allow Akdas and others to rent safe houses and a workshop, buy the material and components needed to build four massive bombs, and then buy the small trucks that would carry them to their targets.
Others recruited the bombers. Mesut Cabuk, 29, a Kurd from the eastern city of Bingol who had spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan, targeted the Beth Israel synagogue in the north of the city. His friend Gokhan Elaltunas, 22, the manager of an internet cafe in Bingol, detonated his bomb at Neve Shalom synagogue, three miles away. Five days later Ilyas Kuncak, 47, a grandfather who had two homes and a profitable shop in Ankara, ploughed his bomb-laden truck into the front of the 18-storey HSBC building. It later transpired that he was driven to murder by Turkish press reports about American soldiers raping 4,000 Iraqi women. The reports, entirely erroneous, had been based upon a misreading of a blog posted by a Californian "sex therapist".
At the same time Feridun Ugurlu, 27, who had fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya, detonated his bomb near the entrance to the consulate. The building was chosen at the last moment, partly because of relatively lax security, according to prosecutors. Among those who died were Roger Short, the consul, Lisa Hallworth, his secretary, Nanette Kurma, a translator from Ayrshire, and seven Turkish members of staff. Most of the dead and almost all of the injured were Muslims, and some observers believe that the attacks, mounted during Ramadan, would have been seen by al-Qaida's supporters as a disastrous own goal. Mehmet Farac, a Turkish writer and journalist who monitors al-Qaida, said: "All four attacks were big strategic mistakes."
When news broke of the first blasts, however, Sakka and Akdas were safe in Aleppo, and according to the testimony of one witness both burst into cheers. By the following March, the two men were fighting alongside Zarqawi in Iraq. Akdas is thought to have died during one of the US assaults on the insurgents' stronghold at Fallujah, where he is said to be buried under a football pitch. At least two other men involved in the Istanbul attacks are being held in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad according to Turkish authorities.
Shortly after Mr Bigley's murder Sakka returned to Turkey. He was armed, according to Mr Karahan, with $500,000 from al-Zarqawi and a plan to kill as many Israelis as possible in an attack so far out at sea that no Muslims would be endangered. He bought an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean at Antalya, rented a 27ft yacht, and acquired a small submersible, a sort of underwater jetski that divers can ride at depths of 75ft. He also bought enough hydrogen peroxide, aluminium powder and acetone to assemble a one-tonne bomb, telling suppliers that he was working for a Damascus timber-bleaching company.
He fled Antalya on August 4 after a fire in his apartment triggered a small explosion that sent debris showering into the street. In his haste he abandoned many of his fake passports. A few days later he was arrested at an airport in the south-east of the country by a policeman who had a copy of his most recent photograph.
Sakka initially admitted financing the Istanbul attacks, but has since withdrawn his confession. His lawyer says he made that admission after Turkish police threatened to hand him over to US authorities. "He knew that if the Americans got him he could end up in a Jordanian prison where he could be cut into little pieces," Mr Karahan said.
CIA officers have interviewed Sakka, but did not question him about Mr Bigley, according to Mr Karahan. "The Americans aren't interested in Bigley, they have 50 Bigleys." However, British authorities investigating the abduction and murder of Mr Bigley are now hoping to interview Sakka in prison. The Foreign Office said: "This case and similar cases are not regarded as closed."
Next month Sakka goes on trial alongside 70 other people accused of playing a part in the suicide bombings. If convicted he faces a minimum of 27 years behind bars.
'Terreurverdachte betrokken bij onthoofding Irak'
LONDEN - Een vermeend lid van het islamitische terreurnetwerk Al Qaida heeft gezegd dat hij lid was van de bende die de Brit Kenneth Bigley in Irak heeft ontvoerd en vermoord. De Syriër Loui Sakka, die terechtstaat in Turkije, zat naar eigen zeggen een bijeenkomst voor waar werd besloten de in 2004 ontvoerde Brit te onthoofden.
De verklaring over de toen 62-jarige Bigley deed Sakka volgens The Guardian van donderdag tijdens verhoren in Istanbul, waar de 35-jarige man terecht staat wegens aanslagen in december 2003. Hij zou het brein zijn achter explosies op Britse en joodse doelen die destijds 61 mensen het leven kostten. Naar eigen zeggen kreeg hij de opdracht tot die aanslagen van Abu Mussab Al Zarqawi, de meestgezochte terrorist in Irak.
De advocaat van Sakka zegt te geloven in de verklaring van zijn client. „Hij is de afgelopen tien jaar een strijder voor islam geweest", aldus Osman Karahan.
Sakka zou zijn rol in de onthoofding hebben onthuld om Bigleys familieleden te laten weten dat de Brit „niet voor niets" werd gedood. „Dit was gerechtigheid", stelde de advocaat. „Als hij in de Verenigde Staten een ernstig misdrijf zou hebben gepleegd, zou hij ook zijn geëxecuteerd. Hetzelfde gold voor hem in Irak."
De jongere broer van Kenneth, Paul, woonde destijds in Amsterdam en zette zich in voor het leven van zijn broer. Die was vlak na de ontvoering, ineengedoken in een kooi, te zien op Arabische nieuwszenders.
Wat het misdrijf van Bigley zou zijn geweest kon The Guardian niet melden. Ook heeft Sakka niet gezegd waar het lichaam van Bigley zou liggen en wie de onthoofding heeft uitgevoerd.