Orgies, Blackmail and anti-Semitism: Inside the Islamic Cult Whose Leader Is Embraced by Israeli Figures

He has a harem of scantily clad 'kittens,' claims the U.K. 'deep state' brought Hitler to power and is accused of sex slavery. What draws Israeli politicians and rabbis to Turkish cult leader Adnan Oktar?

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Adnan Oktar and his 'kittens.'
Adnan Oktar and his 'kittens.'Credit: Global Ltd
Asaf Ronel
Asaf Ronel
Asaf Ronel
Asaf Ronel

UPDATE: Turkey arrests Adnan Oktar and over 200 of his followers. The accusations against them include forming a criminal gang, fraud and sexual abuse

ISTANBUL – Fulya is a Turkish woman of 36. Tall, thin, with peroxide blonde hair, hazel eyes, penciled eyebrows and full lips. When she enters a fancy restaurant on the European banks of the Bosporus in Istanbul’s fashionable Bebek neighborhood, almost all eyes turn to look at her. Even though Fulya (not her real name), who’s the daughter of the CEO of a large Turkish company, seems to leave a trail of stardust behind her, her work is not especially glitzy – she works for an NGO in Istanbul.

Before that, Fulya was a journalistic commentator on Turkey and the Middle East, appearing both in print and on-air. She held those jobs while she was, for more than a decade, a member of a religious sex cult led by a person named Adnan Oktar. According to Fulya, for the last four years she pursued her career as a journalist even though she was a captive of the idiosyncratic cult, following a failed first attempt to escape. She’d made an appointment with a doctor in a hospital in an effort to flee, but Oktar’s people seized her as she was entering the hospital and forced her into a car. After that, she relates, she was imprisoned in a room in one of the Istanbul compounds owned by the cult, managing her career mostly via computer and under close scrutiny, and leaving the room only to take part in the cult’s activities.

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Fulya says she knew she would never escape if she remained in the cult’s central walled-in, high-surveillance compound. Accordingly, she quarreled repeatedly with Oktar, until, less than a year ago, he ordered her to be moved to another compound he owns. There, after managing to get a message out to her father, she organized a getaway. At a prearranged moment, she ran out to the yard with only her ID card and the pajamas she was wearing, got into her father’s waiting car and fled, as the cult’s staff tried to catch her.

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According to the story told by Fulya and by her partner, Sedat (also a pseudonym), who also escaped from the cult two years ago, Oktar is a combination of the type of evangelical preachers one sees on American television and the head of a sex cult that objects in principle to bringing children into the world. The cover for all this is a singular interpretation of Islam.

Oktar, 62, who started to preach his version of the Muslim faith in Istanbul in the 1980s, has since then collected 300 “good friends,” as he terms them, who follow his path, despite accusations that they are being brainwashed and also exploited sexually and economically.

Since 2011, when his television station, A9, started broadcasting globally (with English subtitles), his religious tenets have been getting more attention in Turkey and also worldwide. Oktar focuses on activity geared to interfaith dialogue, which has put him in contact with politicians and rabbis in Israel, but in recent years he’s been talked about mostly because of his interpretation of the “covering” women should wear according to Islam – namely, anything, including the most revealing bikini. The only requirement is that it cover the nipples and the groin area.

Adnan Oktar.
Adnan Oktar.Credit: Global Ltd

“Women are amazing manifestations of God,” Oktar explained to me, when I met him in Istanbul in early February. “They are the most beautiful beings in the world. They are incredible works of art, created by God. They are glorious beings that should be respected, admired, loved, cherished and protected all their lives as blessings.”

The best-known part of his cult are his “kittens,” as he calls them – a group of young women, heavily made up and attired in body-hugging, revealing designer outfits, who appear on his television programs listening with a somewhat glazed expression to his religious exhortations on current issues. In the breaks between his remarks, they will dance robot-like in front of the cameras. Oktar: “Cats are very cute animals, and kittens are even cuter. They are incredible manifestations of God.”

This attitude toward women has generated profiles of Oktar in the international media, with references to the “feminist” cult or the “Muslim sex cult.” Other investigative reports focused on what they described as his modus operandi. These were based on lawsuits filed against him, and included testimonies to the effect that cult members lured young women into taking part in filmed orgies, and then used the recordings to blackmail the participants into obeying Oktar’s demands.

Sedat and Fulya, the former cult members, present an account similar to the testimonies presented during the trial. In a conversation at an Istanbul café, Sedat – who doesn’t speak English, so Fulya translates – says that as part of his role as Oktar’s “right-hand man,” he was sent to find young women and lure them into the cult. “For example, some girl walks by here, now. I go out and meet the girl, and then we become boyfriend and girlfriend,” he says. He and Fulya note that Oktar provides the young men he sends to entice the women with a luxury car and an apartment to match, so they will be able to present themselves as successful businessmen.

After the connection is made, the young man tells the woman that he’s a modern, open person who likes to do “other things,” particularly group sex, in order to “make the girl ‘get used’ to this.” In the meantime, Fulya says, “someone records [films] them. And this girl knows she’s being recorded.” In this way, she says, the women undergo sexual experiences with dozens of different men that dissolve their mental self-defenses, “and in the end, she’s brought in front of this man [Oktar] without any objections, because there is nothing she can object to at that point.”

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'Women are amazing manifestations of God. They are the most beautiful beings in the world'


There were times, Sedat recalls, when he felt “uncomfortable because of those terrible things I would do to women.” In those cases, he would “just walk away from them” and tell Oktar that it was the women who had left. But in most cases, “because I was brainwashed that this man is leading us to paradise and everyone out there will go to hell, I was thinking that with this, I was saving them from evil. I was forcing myself to think [like that].”

According to Oktar and his aides, he has about 300 “good friends” who are involved in his religious activity. But they assert that his nominally Islamic doctrine reaches millions of people through his television program and his books and articles. Fulya and Sedat maintain that the number of cult members is closer to 200, of whom 40 to 50 are women. A 2009 investigative report about the cult published on the New Humanist website claimed that Oktar’s “kittens” are divided into “sisters,” who reportedly have sex only with Oktar himself, and “concubines,” whom he shares with cult members and with guests whom he wants to film in flagrante delicto so that he will have leverage over them.

Fulya offers a different description of the cult’s structure, saying it’s layered “like an onion”: “There are women like me. They would call us ‘sisters.’ We would contribute to his research and his papers and his website and everything he claims to be doing... Those women aren’t especially attractive. Rarely – if they are also good-looking – they appear on TV, too. But there is another group of girls who do appear [regularly] on the TV program. They are very good-looking. All they have to do is take care of themselves. And go dance on TV and be photographed. He uses them for promotion, but they are not supposed to talk to anybody. They are mostly a little stupid. They might hint that this is a dangerous place, so he doesn’t allow them to engage with guests from outside.

“And there’s another group,” she continues. “This group of women, they also make money, and they give him this money. They live in other houses. And they see him maybe two-three times a month. They are attached to him, but they also have their own lives. He uses them on social media, for promotional purposes, to distribute his books. When there is a conference and they need to fill the room, those women are called.”

Fulya’s own story differs from the account that she and her partner offer about the way women are lured into the cult, as also described in earlier reports. Her first contact with the cult, which took place when she was a university student, was initiated by way of Oktar’s young enticers. “But we only met once,” she says. “We were supposed to be boyfriend-girlfriend, but I fought with him the first time I met him. I was a little stubborn and opinionated even when I was younger,” she observes with a smile.

“He went to him [Oktar] saying, ‘I met a girl, she’s talented and beautiful but she’s impossible to talk to.’ So he [Oktar] said, ‘Bring her to me.’ That’s how I met him.” After that first meeting, she says, she would come to Oktar’s compound and he would sit and talk to her for six hours every day. “Talking about life, everything. He would give me presents. He would introduce me to his other girlfriends. He would make me spend a very good time there.”

Adnan Oktar hosts the author at his TV studio.
Adnan Oktar hosts the author at his TV studio. Credit: Global Ltd

The weakness that Oktar exploited in order to draw Fulya into the cult, she says, was her dysfunctional family. “In my family, what was lacking was that my father was never around,” she says. “He was always busy; he was the CEO of a big company. I also had problems with my mother. A big absence.”

Within three months of meeting Oktar, however, relates Fulya, “it started to feel like I had a potential family. I started to spend more time with his female friends. I started going to their house, and he said ‘Why don’t you move in with them?’ So I moved in with his female friends – I was 23 – and then, about four months later, I moved into his compound. And I never left.”

The process of entering the cult is gradual, she says: “They train you to believe in things, like, ‘if you do this, you are serving God.’ They make you talk to friends about this, and if your friend doesn’t accept it, suddenly you start to feel like there’s a gap between you and her, and that gap widens. In the beginning, friends question what you say. ‘Why are you with those weird people? What are you doing with them? Why are you changing the way you look?’ But these people [from the cult] never question you. They only offer you support and happy friendships.”

Pressure is exerted on believers to publicly condemn their families, Fulya and Sedat say, mainly so that they themselves will be convinced that they are alone in the world, apart from the cult. According to Fulya, Oktar also pressured her to wear and be photographed in revealing clothing, like his other women. “He knew that if I had photos taken in provocative clothes, I’d have difficulties finding a job later. I’d be more dependent on him.”

Live broadcast

Oktar himself is happy to be interviewed by an Israeli journalist and is prepared to answer all questions (an interpreter translated his Turkish into English for me) – but only in a live broadcast on his television channel. The studio to which I was taken is located in one of the cult’s centers on the Asian side of Istanbul. It’s a low structure, enclosed by a wall and scanned by security cameras. After traversing a velvet-covered corridor, the guest from Israel is led into the studio. Oktar is sitting on a stage, wearing dark clothing adorned with gold trim, with his broad face, small and threatening eyes and an immense protrusion that covers a large part of his left leg – an inguinal hernia that not even the long outer garb is able to conceal and that looks as though it’s about to burst at any moment.

In reply to my questions about brainwashing, constant surveillance, incarceration and so on, Oktar replies that the people who are now accusing him “stayed with us maybe 20 years. But in the end they understood that they wouldn’t be able to [get] any financial gain from us, and then began to tell these lies. If what they said was true, why did they stay with us for 20 years?”

After the broadcast, without Oktar or his staff even being told which former believers are responsible for the accusations against him, his spokeswoman immediately sent me clips in which Fulya appears and praises Oktar for his attitudes toward women and in general. Oktar’s spokespersons are also happy to show his certificate of good conduct from the police, which states that he does not have a criminal record. Still, he admits that he became entangled with the authorities during the 1980s, and was even jailed twice – once for possession of cocaine and the second time for publishing forbidden religious materials. (Turkey was at the time secular by coercion.) However, he says, and also according to the police certificate he shows, the convictions were annulled.

Oktar himself also denies vehemently the existence of blackmail videos, or of any orgies. “If there is anything like that,” he says, “why don’t they present it to the legal authorities? These are inconsistent, illogical claims. They have been making these claims for the past 20, 25 years, and we’ve never seen [documentation] like that. Police searched [here] also,” he says with conviction.

Adnan Oktar with his 'kittens.'
Adnan Oktar with his 'kittens.'Credit: Global Ltd

However, Oktar’s responses to his accusers and their charges don’t stop there. “When they couldn’t get any money from us, they got money from the spies of the British deep state,” he alleges. “They are now doing everything those spies are telling them to do. They are told to slander, and they slander... We have lots of documents proving that they are now under the control of the British deep state.”

And what is this British “deep state”? For those of us who are not familiar with the conspiracy theories swirling around in the dark corners of the web, Oktar picks up a huge book – the first volume he published about the deep state, the secret network that really runs the world. A second volume followed (both of them in Turkish and English), with a third on the way.

Oktar: “There is a deep-state structure in England that incorporates the MI6 [spy agency] as well. It consists of some 300 people, led by an old man. He is the man that the pope was referring to as ‘he [who] cannot be defeated.’ The entire media heard the pope talk about him in detail recently. Now this very British deep state has launched a campaign against us. Their people, those people supported by the British deep state, all the top names of the British secret service, came to Turkey recently. The lady that is the head of MI6 also came, and they met with a lot of people to talk about us, to convince them to start a police operation against us.”

In clips on the subject, which could be seen on YouTube until Haaretz expressed an interest in them, Oktar explains to his believers how the British “deep state” brought Hitler to power. “Do you see the intimate relations between Hitler and the royal family in Britain? Do you see how they hold Hitler in the highest regard?” he asks, then refers to family ties between senior Nazi officers and the British royal house, and continues, “First, they brought Hitler to power, and then they burned myriad people in Germany.” They perpetrated these atrocities in the name of Satan, he avers, adding that every Muslim must pray for the coming of Jesus, the Mahdi and the Messiah in order to contend with this conspiracy.

This theory serves Oktar not only to offer an alternative history of World War II. The same agents of Satan that are operating on behalf of the British monarch are also responsible for the establishment of Mossad and the CIA, he says. “In fact, Mossad was founded by Sir William Stephenson [World War II British spymaster], known as the right hand of the queen of Britain,” he states knowingly on his program, adding that “it was the British deep state that drew the borders of Israel.”

Oktar tells his believers that the British 'deep state' brought Hitler to power, created the Mossad and drew Israel's borders.

The subject of the deep state occupies a central place in his television talks, which have been broadcast daily for years on his satellite TV station within a not-for-profit framework. Oktar’s intellectual endeavors also includes the publication of more than 300 books since 1987 on a variety of topics, “in dozens of languages,” he says.

His present over-arching themes, expressed in content, say critics, that is copy-and-pasted from other people’s websites, are focused on warnings against the ISIS-based interpretation of Islam, the need for interfaith dialogue – with the emphasis on ties with Israeli political and religious figures – and the struggle against the British “deep state.”

According to the only doctoral dissertation written to date about Oktar’s cult, by a researcher named Anne Ross Solberg (published, in English, as “The Mahdi Wears Armani” by the Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg), Oktar was raised in a secular middle-class family in Ankara and arrived in Istanbul in 1979 to attend art school. In the highly charged political atmosphere of Istanbul in the early 1980s, Oktar, who was soon bored by the interior-decorating classes he attended, started to deliver speeches against Darwin’s theory of evolution and against the Freemasons. A small group of students gathered around him; they became the basis for the “religious community” he established. These early followers recruited new members to the cult, with the emphasis on well-turned-out members of Istanbul’s cosmopolitan elite.

It was a few years later, in the mid-’80s, Solberg writes, when Oktar gave an interview to a newspaper, that he started to attract the attention of the authorities, who at the time defended Turkey’s “secularism” with an iron fist. He was accused of disseminating “religious propaganda” and sentenced to 19 months in prison, part of which he spent in a psychiatric ward.

However, Oktar was not deterred by the confrontation with the powers-that-be. After his release, he and his followers began to meet in villas and cafés in Istanbul’s tonier neighborhoods, where, according to reports cited by Solberg, he preached his doctrine against evolution, Freemasons and Jews. “Judaism and Freemasonry” is also the title of his first book, published under the pen name Harun Yahya, in 1987 – the first of several anti-Semitic tracts that bore that name.

Adnan Oktar with members of his cult.
Adnan Oktar with members of his cult.Credit: Global Ltd

Oktar denies having written those books, either under his name or his pen name. In that case, who’s the author? “A friend of ours, called Nuri,” he tells me. Why did he write them? “Because during those times, [people thought] Jews were like that. The entire Turkey entertained thoughts like that. They thought that Jews would put people in boxes, make them bleed, and use that blood to make bread and then eat that bread. In other words, Jews were portrayed as extremely savage, brutal people. He [Nuri] may have been affected by that rhetoric. Everyone believed that. Jews were portrayed as a brutal people that were created to oppress, that should be killed wherever they were spotted. But I showed everyone that it was not true.”

According to Solberg’s dissertation, in the 1990s, Oktar and his aides began buying up properties in fancy resort towns along the Sea of Marmara, where they also pursued their recruitment efforts, concentrating on well-off young people tanning themselves on the seashore. But Oktar did not target only the children of the rich, Sedat says. “This man needs all kinds of people,” the former cult member says. “He needs operational people he can use in the field and he needs people who read a lot of books, [whom] he can use to write his books.”

According to Sedat, there is one thing that Oktar does “very well, maybe the best in this world: He knows how to use people, and he knows [how to identify] people he can use.”

What kind of life do the men in the cult lead? Some of them are from Istanbul’s secular elite, while others, like Sedat, are from poor families, and were recruited for their talent. Until he left, Sedat was one of the men who were assisting and accompanying Oktar on an everyday basis, while others lead separate lives. Ur, a hefty, smiling, bearded man in his 50s, his dark hair pulled into a ponytail, drove me to the compound for the interview with Oktar. He’s been with Oktar for more than 30 years, he says. He owns a construction company, but in his free time works as a volunteer in several Oktar organizations, including the TV station. His Channel A9 calling card states that he’s a producer there. “As a volunteer,” he says, smiling.

Oktar himself denies the claims made in investigative reports, which I also heard from Fulya and Sedat, to the effect that his friends transfer the bulk of their incomes to him so he can fund his missionary project and continue to maintain his luxuriant lifestyle. His spokeswoman maintains that his activity is funded solely by voluntary donations.

In response to a question from Haaretz, Oktar declared that he himself owns “nothing. No money, not in Turkey, not in any other country. It’s zero. I have no properties, no money, nothing. I spend everything I get, in the way of God. I distribute the money immediately.”

Police raid

In the 1990s, Oktar decided on his revolution in his understanding of Islam, and the cult’s women abandoned their modest attire in favor of revealing clothing created by Italian fashion designers. That transformation was part of an image makeover the cult underwent – perhaps out of fear of pressure from the authorities – and manifested in a diminishment of the religious element in the sermonizing and greater emphasis on Turkish nationalism.

Oktar with Rabbi Meir Lau.
Oktar with Rabbi Meir Lau. Credit: Harun Yahya website

In 1999, the state authorities launched a large-scale investigation of Oktar and his followers. Hundreds of police officers raided the 38 properties owned by his organization, and arrested him and members of the cult. An indictment cited details of the sexual blackmail the cult employed to ensnare new members, including filmed orgies. Oktar spent nine months in prison awaiting trial, all the while insisting on his innocence and claiming he had been tortured while in custody. The testimonies in the hands of the police, he claimed, had been collected illegally. And indeed, most of the witnesses subsequently withdrew their complaints, and the prosecution dropped its charges.

Far from being deterred by the legal challenges, it was now that Oktar and his colleagues decided to expand. They had discovered that they could spread their gospel by means of the internet. The next doctrinal shift took place in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Solberg notes. The cult shed its anti-Semitism and embarked on a new path, one promoting tolerant Islam and the need for interreligious dialogue. The new approach, together with the rise to power of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, which rescinded legal restrictions on religious proselytization, made possible greater freedom of action for the cult in the new century.

For her part, Solberg maintains that the cult thrived economically on an unprecedented scale thanks to its ties with Erdogan’s party, which gave companies owned by cult members access to many public contracts. Nevertheless, in 2008 the prosecution reopened the case against Oktar, and after being convicted of creating an illegal organization for personal gain, he was sentenced to three years in prison. He appealed the decision, and in 2010 all the charges were dropped.

With the legal threat removed, Oktar moved to the next stage of disseminating his doctrine, which involved the establishment of the TV station in 2011, where his “kittens” began to play a major role in his public image. In addition, Oktar moved to enhance the cult’s reputation internationally. As such, they succeeded in getting politicians from the Balkan republics, and politicians and rabbis from Israel, to appear on Oktar’s talk show. Oktar’s spokeswoman was pleased to provide me with a list of dozens of Israeli public figures who are said to have been on the program.

'Jews were portrayed as a brutal people that were created to oppress, that should be killed wherever they were spotted. But I showed everyone that it was not true.'


One of the first Israeli guests, in the fall of 2011, was the Ashkenazi former chief rabbi and Israel Prize laureate Israel Meir Lau. Lau told me that he had been on the program once, through the mediation of a veteran journalist of the ultra-Orthodox magazine Bamishpacha. Rabbi Lau, who traveled at Oktar’s expense, admits that he and his aides did not look into Oktar’s background before the interview. Lau, who is the chairman of the Yad Vashem Council in Jerusalem, was appalled to hear about Oktar’s anti-Semitic past. He emphasized that all they talked about was the Jewish people’s pursuit of peace.

Explaining the ideas behind his call for interfaith dialogue, Oktar says, “I love Jews very much. I love them very much, because they have been loyal to prophets Moses, Abraham, Israel. They are pious, they love God very much. I consider them Muslims, because they don’t say Prophet Mohammed lied.”

However, the willingness of at least some Israeli politicians and clerics to appear on his TV program and at other events stems from another element of his religious outlook: his attitude regarding Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“Christians, Jews, Muslims – everyone can worship there,” he told me, in a refreshing message to Israel’s Temple Mount Faithful movement, from a person who claims to speak on behalf of Islam. Nor does Oktar make do with supporting Jewish worship on the Temple Mount: He’s in favor of rebuilding the Temple. “The land there is sufficient for this,” he said: We will build the prayer house of Prophet Solomon there, and in this century, inshallah [God willing].”

In contrast to the Israelis who are delighted to be Oktar’s guest, the Jewish community in Istanbul wants no part of him. Indeed, they refuse even to speak about him on the record. “I do not know many of them,” Oktar admits in reference to the local Jewish population, but adds that he has “very good friends in Israel who are truly religious Jews. I love them because they are truly religious,” he says, in an apparent swipe at the degree of “Jewishness” he seems to think is manifested by the Turkish Jewish community.

Following Rabbi Lau, many other Israelis have appeared on the program in recent years, among them MK Yehudah Glick (Likud), Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (Likud), rabbis from all the branches of Orthodoxy, and a good many former MKs. These all-expenses-paid visits took place despite the strong recommendation against ties with Oktar from Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon, asked for comment, told Haaretz: “Adnan Oktar, known also as Harun Yahya, is a Holocaust-denying anti-Semite who is trying by underhand means to be ‘koshered’ by Israeli political elements. The Foreign Ministry is against all ties with him and has cautioned about this on numerous occasions in the past.”

Knesset Member Yehuda Glick with Adnan Oktar.
Knesset Member Yehuda Glick with Adnan Oktar.Credit: Global Ltd

MK Yakov Margi (Shas) confirms that he was invited by Oktar for a single interview, “which was sympathetic and warm to Israel,” he says. Margi admits that he “did not know that he is a controversial figure because of problematic opinions in his past, and certainly if I had been aware of these matters, I would not have accepted his invitation.”

In contrast, fellow Shas member and current deputy finance minister Yitzhak Cohen was more cautious. He was invited to appear on Oktar’s program a few years ago. Before the interview, he relates, he met with a representative of the Israeli Embassy in Ankara to get his take on Oktar and his work. In the wake of that conversation, Cohen says, he did an about-face and returned to Israel (though his name still appears on the guest list that Oktar’s aides distribute).

Communications Minister Kara – a Druze who was named by some of the Israelis who appeared on Oktar’s program as the person who arranged for their invitations – declined to answer questions from Haaretz about his ties with the cult leader.

MK Glick, a Temple Mount activist and someone who has been a guest on Oktar’s program five times, makes no effort to hide anything, including the fact that he hosted the cult leader’s representatives in the Knesset. Glick says that he was familiar with the Foreign Ministry’s warnings, but that he had examined the matter himself and found nothing untoward in Oktar’s style or substance – only “warm ties with the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and support for a dignified interfaith dialogue,” he explained.

A spokesman for Glick added that the MK met “a warm person who has published many articles, including in The Jerusalem Post, which contain clear statements of support for Israel and for religious tolerance.” Glick told me in a second conversation that, apart from one indirect reference in the past, he had never heard the allegations of sexual exploitation and that this was not something mentioned by the Foreign Ministry officials in their objections.

After Ataturk

Oktar’s cult isn’t different from other cults around the world, with charismatic leaders taking advantage of young people’s weaknesses and identity crises. But one aspect might be unique to the Turkish cult: In the society shaped by Ataturk following World War I, modernism and secularism were forced from above. For some, the new Turkish national identity replaced the religious identity that was taken away. Others managed to preserve tradition in secret. But there were those who fell through the cracks, like Sedat and Ur, remaining devout to an Islam that was devoid of substance. These people are easy prey for Oktar, who offers his own version of Islam.

As Fulya and Sedat explain, and as arises from random conversations with Turks, no one in Turkey really takes him seriously. The hundreds of books, the TV station, the claims about the British “deep state,” as well as the promotion of an interfaith dialogue and the hosting of Israeli figures in the studio – all are aimed at a core of 200 to 300 believers and at the naive and vulnerable souls he tries to ensnare. Oktar’s photos with Israeli politicians are used to convince yet another youth in crisis that he speaks the truth – that even the leader of the Israeli superpower meets with his representatives.

So far, there’s no proof the women who remain cult members actually underwent the kind of exploitation described by Fulya and Sedat – allegations Oktar and his aides deny. Nor is there any way to determine how many of his followers are truly convinced by his doctrine and how many are in it for personal gain.

In the meantime, Oktar’s days as a cult leader may be numbered. In contrast to the claims of ties with Erdogan, Fulya maintains that all the judges who acquitted Oktar in his 2010 appeal are now themselves in jail. They are accused of maintaining ties with Fethulla Gulen, the exiled cleric (some would say cult leader) accused by Erdogan of fomenting the failed coup against him in the summer of 2016. Whether Erdogan’s people no longer find ties with Oktar useful, or whether he’s been marked because of relations with Gulen (according to Fulya), or simply because Turkish law enforcement authorities have accumulated sufficient evidence to renew the legal proceedings against him – whatever the cause, the pressure on him seems to be mounting.

The media regulator in Turkey has levied a number of fines on Oktar and has canceled his satellite broadcast license, taking Channel A9 off the air. In addition, the Turkish authorities are pushing ahead with legislation that would require web broadcasters to be licensed – in order to silence him altogether, they say. At the same time, the father of two young women who are members of the cult filed a complaint against its leader with the police and obtained a restraining order against him.

Oktar himself explains in no uncertain terms that all these developments are the result of “my support for the Jewish people.”

In the meantime, though, Oktar and his group are continuing to operate, and the web preserves for all time the repeated visits of Israeli notables to “the important Turkish religious figure,” as Rabbi Lau says Oktar was described to him. Or, as Sedat put it in our meeting, his voice pent-up with rage, “We only wanted to tell you what’s going on inside, because unfortunately your government and people in your government are helping him, both financially and otherwise. And as they keep receiving this aid, they keep reaching out to new young people and destroying new families.”

Asaf Ronel was in Turkey as a guest of the Turkish state English-language television channel TRT World.