The Turkish security forces who raided the £700,000 villa must have considered the swimming pool. Like all the homes in the Sealybria complex, it wrapped around the house like a moat.
Residents could swim around the outside of their properties and, in some cases, pop their heads up through domed plastic circles in the living rooms, which extend over the water.
As far as alleged Islamic State hideouts go, Sealybria was an unlikely one. A luxury gated community an hour from Istanbul it’s the type of estate that wouldn’t look out of place in Orange County. Yet, in November 2015, four Brits were among those arrested in a Turkish intelligence raid there.
The most well-known of those, and the only one to do time, was Aine Davis, from Hammersmith, who is alleged to have been the fourth member of the ‘ISIS Beatles’. When he was arrested Turkish authorities claimed he was planning an attack similar to the one at the Bataclan theatre in Paris. Although, when the case went to trial, no evidence was brought to support this.
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He is currently in a Turkish prison serving what’s left of his seven and a half year terror offences sentence. Two other Brits; Jermaine Burke, 29, from High Wycombe and Londoner Mohammed Karwani, 40, had the charges against them dropped and returned to the UK in 2017, where they were arrested, then released . A fourth man, Londoner Deniz Solak was acquitted.
How did four British people end up holed up in this supposed terrorist safe-house? MyLondon spoke to the Turkish journalist who put some of the pieces together and paid a visit to the luxury residence themselves to try and find out.
‘A private beach and servants’ quarters’
A family now lives in the house where Davis and his fellow Londoners stayed in Sealybria. Located on a quiet stretch of Marmara coastline in the district of Silivri, the gated community has many luxurious features.
The building’s design draws inspiration from a high-end sailing vessel. There are large circular rooms and spiral staircases that look like a Titanic interior. In the basement are ‘servant’s quarters’, where employees can live without disturbing their bosses upstairs. Grand master bedrooms offer views of the sea and rolling countryside.
In the summer, residents lounge in bikinis on the lengthy stretch of private beach or take to the lush communal gardens to practice pilates. There’s a tennis court, football pitch and playground, only to be used by those who live in Sealybria.
Although it is located some distance from any town, security on the site is tight. Tall gates keep out any unwanted guests and security cars patrol the site on a regular basis. Cars entering the estate need to get through a barrier manned by an officer 24/7.
The only clue as to why this place might have become an alleged terrorist hideout is that it you would never expect that it would be. Sealybria prides itself of being “modern” and “European” unlike more ‘conservative’ and ‘traditional’ areas nearby.
Locals remember the raid taking place, but are keen to consign it to history.
How they got there
Information about how the four Brits ended up caught up in the raid in Silivri is hard to come by. The most headway to finding out has been made by former journalist Mehmet Bozkurt, who covered it for a Turkish national newspaper at the time. MyLondon tracked down Mr Bozkurt, who now works in publishing, and he was able to share his memories on the case as well as, now archived, articles he had published.
Using his connections in Turkey, Mr Bozkurt was able to acquire insight that others haven’t. But, after Davis was sentenced, he was asked one question which remains unanswered to this day; why?
“After reading the indictment and following all the court hearings,” he wrote after the trial, “I still ask the same question; Why did six people meet in that house that day?”
An answer he did get was how.
The luxury villa was owned by an America-based businessman Faisal Faridi, who the Turkish prosecutors alleged was affiliated with the ‘Al-Qaida-inspired group’ Jabhat al-Nusra. al-Nusra was letting a Palestinian man stay in the property, while he was away in New York.
According to Mr Bozkurt, it was a man from Clapton, Deniz Solak, who arranged for the Brits to stay in Sealybria. Solak, who was using the name Muhammed at the time, apparently because he preferred it to Deniz, had met a Palestinian man who was staying at the villa and been invited to join him.
But Solak did not come alone. He brought with him two other Brits.
Burke, from High Wycombe, was working as a teacher in Konya, a city eight hours drive away. Mehmet reported that he had interviews in Istanbul and another in Çorlu, a town 30 minutes from Silivri and decided to stay in the villa.
The pair were joined by Karwani, a Londoner also living in Konya. Mr Bozkurt reported that he travelled to Istanbul to shop and was the only person who knew Davis. His article went on to reveal it was Karwani who allegedly received a call from Davis asking to stay and he got permission from the Palestinian man in charge of the property.
‘I didn’t know Jihadi John’
How Davis ended up in Sealybria is unknown, either way he was being tracked by the Turkish secret service. His arrival was what prompted the raid. Davis had slipped across the border from Syria under a fake passport, Mr Bozkurt wrote.
The allegations against him in Turkey were not related to a specific incident. They were about him being a member of a terrorist group.
He has always denied being one of the so-called ISIS Beatles. Davis said he’d crossed paths with Mohammed Emwazi, the man accused of being ‘Jihadi John’, but that was it. “I am not ISIS. I went to Syria because there was oppression in my country,” he told the court. Before adding that pictures of him posing with guns were a childish mistake.
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Much of Davis’ story remains untold. Unlike the others who’ve had detailed articles written about their lives, the Hammersmith man’s backstory has remained somewhat of a mystery. Previous convictions for firearms and drug-related offences have fed a ‘gangster turned Jihadi’ narrative, embraced by the national media. But other than the court reports people haven’t spoken out.
The other men who were with him in Sealybria have quietly fallen from view.
At the time they were arrested family members of both Karwani and Solak strongly challenged any suggestion that they had any connection to terrorism. Karwani’s father, Sayed Jan, told the BBC: “There is no terrorism in my family,” and that his son had “good relationships with people. We are against Daesh [so-called Islamic State].”
Solak’s cousin, who worked at a popular east London convenience store owned by the family, told local press “he was staying with friends from England [when he was arrested], helping them out because he speaks Turkish.”
Did you know Aine Davis? Contact [email protected]
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