An anonymous whistleblower is captivating Turkey by tweeting revelations from the upper echelons of Turkish politics. The latest claims are the most explosive yet: The whistleblower says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plotted terrorist-style attacks on Turkish civilians to frame his opponents.
The whistleblower, who operates on Twitter as Fuat Avni (@FuatAnviFuat, or @FuatAvniEng for tweets in English), claims he's male, works alone, and is part of Erdogan's inner circle. In Turkey, a country that ranks 154th out of 180 in the press freedom index compiled by Reporters without Borders, Fuat Avni has shattered the tightly controlled political discourse and enthralled Turks.
"Fuat Avni's consistent credibility has established him as a reliable source of information," Greg Barton, an expert on Turkish politics at Monash University, told VICE News. "The tweets are taken seriously because they have substance behind them; they predict something breaking that is then confirmed to be true."
In the latest series of tweets, posted January 9, he claims Erdogan and the head of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan, are planning "a terror act that would kill dozens of innocent people in a large city," while framing the Gülenists — a splinter faction of Erdogan's government and his main opposition — for the attack.
1. They failed to brand the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization through Dec. 14 raids against the media.— Fuat Avni Eng (@FuatAvniEng) January 10, 2015
8. A terror act that will kill dozens of innocent people in a large city was planned by Hakan Fidan and presented to Erdo?an.— Fuat Avni Eng (@FuatAvniEng) January 10, 2015
13. Terror acts are planned to take place in malls and AKP buildings so it could increase rancor and violence against the Gülen movement.— Fuat Avni Eng (@FuatAvniEng) January 10, 2015
12. Please stay away from big shopping malls and crowded areas. You could be a victim of Erdo?an— Fuat Avni Eng (@FuatAvniEng) January 10, 2015
Fuat Avni's ability to expose sensitive information about the government has made him a folklore figure in contemporary Turkey. He has more than a million followers, but Turks are more familiar with newspaper and television coverage of his predictions.
The newspaper Today's Zaman went as far as to name him person of the year at the end of 2014.
In the editorial announcing the award, Today's Zaman said, "Fuat Avni is clearly one of the biggest problems for the government," and that he "is probably on Erdogan's 'most wanted' list given the damage he has done."
"His most recent accurate report was about the crackdown on media on December 14 which directly targeted the Zaman media group, including Today's Zaman," the editorial said. "Hours before the detention of Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanli, Fuat Avni tweeted tipoffs about the operation, along with the names of the police officers, prosecutors and others who would conduct the operation allegedly ordered by Erdogan."
Erdogan was elected prime minister in 2003, where he remained until he won the Turkish presidency in 2014. He and many within his team were hit with corruption allegations in 2013. These allegations, some of which came from Fuat Avni, remain unproven. Erdogan continues to protest his innocence, claiming the allegations are part of a conspiracy against him by supporters of the self-exiled opposition leader Fethullah Gülen, who he claims is attempting a coup.
Since the corruption scandal broke, Erdogan is seen by some to have become increasingly tyrannical. He has imprisoned many from within the police and army while reining in media opposition, further damaging the freedom of the Turkish press.
Even so, the latest claim of a plot to terrorize the Turkish people and frame the Gülen-led opposition group sounds fantastical. But, Barton said, nothing should be ruled out in the current environment of Turkish politics.
"These latest tweets are incredible, literally beyond belief," said Barton. "In another country and another context the claims would be ludicrous but in contemporary Turkey they're plausible and there's cause for genuine concern.
"What Erdogan's been saying about Gülen in recent times is equally incredible and the way he's moved against Gülen make these claims credible," Barton continued. "He's attempted to portray Gülen and his supporters as violent extremists but Gülen is against violence, he spoke out against the attacks in Paris and it's hard to conceive how people inspired by him would see the use of violence as justified."
Barton viewed the claims in the context of the porous Turkish-Syria border. The border has become a gateway for foreign fighters, including the ranks of the Islamic State and al Qaeda heading to Syria to fight against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
"Thousands of extremists have travelled through Turkey in recent months," Barton said. "This is an embarrassment for Erdogan and it's plausible he could be planning this attack to turn this narrative around, putting the negative focus on Gülenists."
According to Barton, there is concern that Erdogan is allowing fighters to cross from Turkey into Syria, and that his ideology has shifted in support of extremist Islam.
"It seems Erdogan has ordered his security agency to turn a blind eye to groups trying to get into Syria from Turkey and there's increasing concern that Erdogan has ideological sympathies with extremist Islam," Barton said. "There are many within Turkish defense concerned about this but Erdogan has used his new powers as president to silence dissent by replacing many within the police and army."
In a series of raids, which Fuat Avni correctly predicted, this purge extended to the media, with many senior journalists and editors being arrested across the country.
"It's a mixed picture, there is a lot of robust journalism from fearless journalists speaking out freely," Barton said. "Many journalists have been imprisoned in the past for having links with extremist groups but over the past two years Erdogan has turned on a lot of mainstream journalists who are not seen as endorsing any political parties, let alone extremists. His argument is that there's an international conspiracy against him with the creation of a parallel state but this is becoming more and more fanciful."
The whistleblower's identity has been the subject of widespread speculation. Some suggest he's a member Erdogan's inner circle, others a supporter of Gülen. In an interview with Vocativ, conducted over Twitter, Fuat Avni confirmed the former, denied the latter, and claimed to operate the account alone.
"There is no team behind it [the Twitter account], only me. I don't need to get any information from anyone because for years I have been working in sensitive positions within the AKP [Turkey's ruling party]. Because of my position, I have information about people at critical points," Avni said, distancing his work from the Gülenists. "I have been following their [the Gülenists] activities for years and appreciate most of them. Apart from that, I have no link whatsoever."
Barton speculated that due to the deteriorating situation within Turkey and the disassociation of many senior civil servants and government officials, Fuat Avni could have multiple sources.
"Erdogan's fallen out with many senior colleagues and as more people become disillusioned with his leadership and the direction Turkey's headed in, one would imagine there are a lot of people feeding information to Fuat Avni," Barton said.
The other mystery is Fuat Avni's motivation for the very public and dangerous position he has taken.
"There are a lot of people within Turkish media and politics who are passionate and concerned about the direction Turkey's moving in," Barton said. "The tweets read like someone who has a genuine concern. It's plausible that Fuat Avni's linked to the Gülen movement but the question is whether the tweets are motivated by secularism or genuine concern and it seems to be the latter — genuine concern."
Follow Max Rann on Twitter: @RannMax