Turkish police on Wednesday detained a controversial Islamic “televangelist” who has an anti-Semitic past, and were seeking hundreds of people linked to him for alleged crimes including forming a criminal gang, fraud, blackmail and sexual abuse.
Istanbul police said warrants were issued against Adnan Oktar and 234 of his followers and that financial crime units were carrying out operations in Istanbul and four other cities to detain them.
Oktar was detained in his villa in Istanbul’s upmarket Cengelkoy district, state-run Anadolu agency reported. Video footage showed Oktar and other suspects being escorted to a hospital for medical checks before being questioned by police.
Police said accusations against Oktar and his group include forming a gang with criminal intent, sexual abuse of minors, sexual assault, kidnapping, blackmail, fraud, money laundering and exploitation of religious sentiments.
In February, Turkey’s media watchdog imposed fines on Oktar’s TV channel and suspended broadcasts of shows where the televangelist holds theological discussions surrounding by glamorous women known as “kittens,” with whom he also frequently dances.
Oktar, 62 — also known by his pen name Harun Yahya — has authored numerous books promoting creationism against Darwin’s theory of evolution as well as conspiracy theories.
Turkish police have arrested Adnan Oktar, a truly bizarre Islamist cult leader and creationist who is best known for being perpetually surrounded by his 'kittens'. https://t.co/aMMfsuKhXr pic.twitter.com/zitGhxZ4AS
— Raf Sanchez (@rafsanchez) July 11, 2018
He has been criticized in the past for publishing books featuring anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial, but in recent years has renounced them and held events to combat those phenomena in the Muslim world. He has been embraced by some high-profile Israelis.
In a 1986 book he penned called “Judaism and Freemasonry,” he claimed both groups were making use of their power “to erode the spiritual, religious, and moral values of the Turkish people and make them like animals.”
He was later slammed over a 1996 book titled “The Holocaust Lie” published under his pen name, which claimed that “what is presented as Holocaust is the death of some Jews due to the typhus plague during the war and the famine towards the end of the war caused by the defeat of the Germans.”
He later denied penning that book, saying it was written by his friend. In 2006 he published another book affirming the Holocaust and has since espoused that position on many occasions.
Oktar has hosted many Israeli figures on his TV show, including Temple Mount activist and now-MK Yehudah Glick, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, and several Orthodox rabbis. He has been lauded for pro-Israel views, including affirming the connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.
He has supported the rights of Jews and Christians to pray on the contested Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem, the holiest site in Judaism and third-holiest for Muslims, who refer to it as Al-Haram Al-Sharif.
He has filed more than 5,000 defamation lawsuits against individuals in the last decade, and has caused authorities to block several websites.
Asked why he was being held, Oktar told journalists as he entered the hospital: “It’s a British plot.”
People gathered outside the hospital and were heard booing and mocking him.