Heysem Topalca, a fugitive who allegedly played a key role in the Turkish intelligence operations in Syria before vanishing into thin air in 2015, has died at the age of 54, leaving several unanswered questions behind.
Topalca, notoriously known as “Hytham Qassap” or “Hytham the butcher,” and two other passengers in his car were killed in a traffic accident in the central Anatolian province of Konya on Feb 10. Topalca’s name was embroiled in various controversies from his alleged involvement in Ankara’s weapons transfers to armed Syrian groups to accusations that he played a role in two separate terror attacks inside Turkey and that he helped radical jihadi groups to supply chemical agents. In 2015, a Turkish court sentenced him to 12 years in jail for terrorism-related charges. He has supposedly been “wanted” by the Turkish authorities since then.
Hailing from Syria’s predominantly Turkmen region of Bayir Bucak in the Latakia countryside, Topalca had allegedly collaborated with Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) to arm Turkmens in the region against the Syrian government. He had also led a jihadi Turkmen faction there, where he was dubbed “ghost commander” for his ability to freely conduct all sorts of smuggling operations. According to a 2014 police report, Topalca had entered and exited Turkey 873 times from 2011 to 2014. How he had managed to travel with such ease during a time frame in which his name was implicated in several investigations over terror-related crimes remains an open question, fanning claims that he had been collaborating with the authorities.