From behind bars in Argentina, a wanted Turkish mob leader has ignited a firestorm with explosive allegations that some Turkish government officials had recruited him to put a hit on the former political prisoner, Pastor Andrew Brunson.
“Even before the coup attempt, [officials] had started to talk about Brunson – that he was a spy and supporting terrorism,” Serkan Kurtulus, 38, told Fox News on Monday from jail. “Then, after the  failed coup, they wanted me to find someone to kill him and blame it on the Gulenists.”
The self-confessed gang honcho was slapped with an Interpol arrest warrant by Ankara at some point in or after 2017, with a bevy of charges ranging from organized crime to illicit arms deals and was arrested in Buenos Ares in June 2020. He has since vowed that the real reason his homeland is summoning him back is that he knows too much.
A spokesperson for the Turkish Embassy in Washington refuted the allegations by Kurtulus, calling them "total nonsense" and "fabricated to create a false base for his claim for asylum in Argentina."
While the alleged gang leader admitted to a running a violent gang in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir, Kurtulus insists that his orders came from the top and his money-swindling endeavors were conducted under the direction of the slain Izmir Regional Chairperson, Ahmet Kurtulus, a member of the AKP administration – the same as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who became his “partner-in-crime.”
The two share a last name but are not related.
“After the coup attempt, [officials] created an intelligence file on Brunson they shared with me, and asked me to find a young person, a religious person who would sacrifice himself for the nation,” Serkan Kurtulus alleged.
Yet secretly, he claimed, the plan was to murder the Christian leader with the intention to blame it on the Gulen Movement, which Ankara refers to under the derogatory term “FETO” and holds responsible for the botched 2016 coup attempt and deems a terrorist organization.
The still highly debatable allegation has received some extra impetus in the weeks since Serkan Kurtulus started making public proclamations over an alleged Brunson kill plot. According to a witness testimony filed to on August 18 to the Izmir Criminal Court by Ufuk Gurbuz, the personal driver and security guard to Ahmet Kurtulus, a Brunson folder was indeed created and closely guarded by the then regional chairperson.
“He would never leave it anywhere, or on his desk, it was always locked in his drawer,” the testimony, which named other AKP members alleged to have been involved in working with Serkan, stated before asserting that a meeting between the mob leader, Ahmet and several other officials took place for an “hour or so.” “When Ahmet Kurtulus was finally leaving, he had the folder in his hand that included information about the Pastor Brunson. But afterward, I don’t know what happened.”
From Kurtulus’ lens, the homicide plan was driven by image, optics, and the hope that the U.S. would join Turkey in designating FETO a terrorist outfit. However, he portended that he continued to delay and delay the mission because he “didn’t want to get involved with anything to do with killing an American,” and later in 2016, he fled Turkey for Georgia.
Kurtulus underscored that while he was not offered a specific sum of money to carry out the assassination plot on Brunson, but his financial relationships were ongoing.
Brunson captured media headlines around the world soon after he was seized as part of the post-coup purge in 2016 in Izmir – where he has been residing for some 20 years and served as the pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church – amid accusations of espionage and terrorist ties to the Gulen group. The Trump administration retailed with vehement sanctions against the NATO ally under the guise of religious persecution and using Brunson as a political pawn, securing the Pastor’s release in October 2018.
Erdogan repeatedly demanded the extradition of the group’s leader Fethullah Gulen – who resides in Pennsylvania – in exchange for Brunson, but that request has not been fulfilled, and the U.S. has said that Ankara has not shown sufficient proof that the cleric orchestrated the coup effort.
Brunson told Fox News on Tuesday that he had followed the story since it arose out of Argentina – and then out of Turkey. And while he noted that he does not know if Kurtulus is telling the truth, he “would not be surprised either way.”
“There is a lot of intrigue and conspiracy in that part of the world, and I did become a hated man in Turkey – hated by the general population as a result of a propaganda campaign against me, and hated by the government because of the increasing cost they were paying to continue to detain me,” Brunson said. “I expect there are people who wanted to kill me then, and some who would like to kill me now.”
According to Kurtulus, he was born in Izmir but grew up mostly in Germany before returning to his roots at the age of 17, where he started running a car dealership and managing a local sports complex. In 2013, he said, he was introduced to AKP parliament members through a mutual friend. Given that he had access to vast numbers of youth via the sports facility, he said political leaders funded him to form an unofficial gang that could be called upon to take care of business interests when needed.
Kurtulus claimed that a female parliament member recruited his gang to beat a contrary, probing journalist to “teach him a lesson,” and once that was successfully completed, the trust and relationship only flourished.
“Whenever we had an issue with the police or other people in government, we were untouchable. We were protected,” he continued. “We started doing other operations, taking bribes from wealthy businesspeople in the city.”
At the height of his alleged politicallybacked missions, Kurtulus said he was making between $50,000 and $100,000 per week and could mobilize 1,000 people if required.
Nonetheless, media in Turkey and the country’s criminal justice system has projected a very different picture of the career criminal.
Kurtulus is wanted for more than two dozen crimes – from establishing an organized crime wing involved in Ahmet’s assassination to firearm violations, supplying weapons to violent groups in the Syrian war, to property damage, and possessing a fake passport. Moreover, Turkish authorities have accused Kurtulus of arms smuggling in the region and for playing a part in the rebel slaughter of a Russian pilot who was killed after parachuting from his shot-down aircraft in November 2015.
Kurtulus also claimed that soon after leaving, he was contacted by authorities in Turkey and told to return, but after months after refusing to do so was placed on Interpol’s wanted list.
He admitted to using a fake passport and identification, which he said Georgian authorities helped him obtain to “avoid getting killed if made to go back to Turkey,” and that he then traveled through Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Macedonia and Colombia before landing in Argentina in December last year where he remained for six months before being arrested.
With regard to Syria, Kurtulus said that between 2014 and 2016, he routinely crossed the border between Turkey and Syria, where he was given money to bring wounded civilians into his home country for critical medical care. He denied any direct involvement with terrorist groups.
And Ahmet Kurtulus, the former official and alleged mob boss alongside Serkan, was apprehended in 2018 on charges associated with establishing and managing an armed criminal organization and released later that year into house arrest.
He was then shot dead on May 31, 2019, inside his residence by individuals dressed as police officers. A lawyer for the deceased official, according to Turkish reports, has also voiced speculation that Serkan himself was behind the murder, which he has denied.
Kurtulus said that he has applied for asylum and fears for his life if he is forced back to Turkey.
“Because I have leaked stuff, there is zero chance I will survive,” he conjectured.
While recent reports have indicated that the FBI is currently investigating the alleged assassination scheme, a spokesperson for the national office told Fox News on Tuesday that in “adhering to DOJ policy, we neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation.”
Kurtulus said that he has not been approached by any U.S. officials.
“If they do, I will share all recordings and everything I know with them,” he added. “My family’s life is under stress in Turkey; my life is under stress.”
Yet the Turkish Embassy representative said that at this moment they are not aware of an extradition process put forward by Ankara, and "do not have any information that the FBI is carrying out an investigation about his allegations."