The Kurdish connection
The murder of an innocent family man sparked a chain reaction ending the reign of Britain's heroin Godfather. Kurt Barling has the story of how Abdullah Baybasin’s criminal network faltered.
When 43 year old Alisan Dogan was fatally stabbed on Green Lanes at the height of a mini riot in November 2002 few people could have imagined it would lead to the downfall of one of Britain's most notorious heroin smugglers. However the murder of an innocent man triggered a new alliance of interests between the Kurdish and Turkish communities and the police.
Since the late 1990s the Baybasin family had been building a London based network capable of facilitating the majority of heroin trafficked into Britain. Husseyin Baybasin arrived in this country wanted elsewhere by law enforcement agencies. It's alleged his links to the Turkish establishment gave him powerful allies to protect his smuggling of drugs into Western Europe and eventually into the UK but this had finally turned sour.
It's reported that younger brother Abdullah told an immigration tribunal in late 2004 that the family were offered a "safe haven" in the UK after his brother agreed to tell customs what he knew about the involvement in heroin trafficking of senior Turkish officials. Husseyin ended up arrested in the Netherlands and jailed for twenty years in 2001 for his organised criminal activities including conspiracy to murder and drug smuggling. This was raised to life when he appealed.
Whilst Husseyin had been awaiting trial in the Netherlands, Abdullah took over the helm of the family enterprise in London. Despite the fact that Abdullah was confined to a wheelchair, the Baybasin clan's reputation ensured few people were willing to openly challenge their activities within their own community. The Kurds were paralysed by fear and the police were paralysed by a lack of credible intelligence.
The evidence suggests that in the late 1990s the Baybasin clan had worked hard at building support in the Kurdish community by sponsoring various events under the banner of the PKK. This political grouping, which supported the setting up of an independent Kurdistan, was widely followed in the highly politicised exile community in Haringey and Hackney. They also made generous gestures at popular events like weddings.
For a while they were your archetypal loveable rogues. The Baybasin's now appear to have used this as cover for their criminal activities. As their influence grew so did their list of associations within London's criminal underworld.
Their trafficking activities had remained largely off the radar screen of the Metropolitan Police but as their interests spread across, people, weapons and drugs that couldn't last.
By the middle of 2000 the Baybasin's were beginning to make their presence felt in the heroin trafficking business in the UK. London rather than the North-East was becoming a major hub for warehousing heroin. The Baybasin's were also building connections to keep a hold on distribution to regional suppliers. Global political change was playing its part. Pakistan had become a key ally in the fight against the Taliban which meant one important route out of Pakistan and into the UK for traffickers had become extremely risky.
However with the Taliban in power in Afghanistan and poppies being openly grown, one ethnic group’s loss was another's gain. Eastern Turkey was flooded with the raw material for heroin. The refining plants were run by the Baybasin clan. Heroin was processed there before being smuggled overland to Western Europe.
The Baybasin's were in a good position to use their European connections to set up regular overland transhipment routes through Italy, Austria, Germany and the Benelux countries to get the heroin into the UK. Language ties and in particular strong Kurdish communities in Germany facilitated the trade.
In London the Bombacilers (literally translated as the bombers), or Abdullah Baybasin’s foot soldiers, were beginning to wreak havoc in Haringey. Recruitment of young, mostly unemployed, young men was stoking up a level of fear in the Kurdish community to extort money through firebombing of premises and torture. Discipline was ruthless and the police faced a wall of silence… but not entirely.
In 2001, after a tip off, Operation Omega was set up to intercept a relatively small exchange of heroin from London to Liverpool. Surveillance over several weeks eventually led to the gang being arrested for possession of 2.5 kg of heroin. But once the police started gathering evidence from mobile phone transactions it became clear that Abdullah Baybasin himself was probably at the heart of much larger scale trafficking.
On this occasion it is thought he had supplied the heroin as a paying "favour" to a new "customer", a good way of establishing a new outlet for the steady flow of heroin into London. Business needs good supply and strong markets. The idea is not to be caught in possession of the material. In this way the police estimated that by 2003 around 90 per cent of the heroin arriving in Britain was controlled or facilitated by the Baybasin network.
Inevitably, with so much money at stake, turf wars were beginning to emerge. Ongoing intimidation and extortion in Haringey was fostering a groundswell of resentment. Both combined to spark the violent exchanges in which an innocent family man Alisan Dogan was murdered in November 2002.
In the wake of the violence on Green Lanes the metropolitan police launched several large scale operations at the end of 2002 and the start of 2003 to send a clear signal that they recognised the growing threat from the Baybasin group's activities.
I accompanied police on one raid in which several hundred officers in full riot gear and armed like Robocops swooped on Abdullah Baybasin's lavish house in Edgware. On that occasion little was found and Abdullah was released, but not before the National Crime Squad had become involved in a parallel surveillance operation under the codename Marmot.
In early 2003 Abdullah Baybasin's operational HQ at the back of a shop on Green Lanes had been fitted with hidden cameras and microphones. The scale of the activities soon made it clear what type of outfit the police were dealing with.
Surveillance revealed beatings of their own members to enforce ruthless discipline, the making of petrol bombs to intimidate businesses and Abdullah Baybasin holding court like a London version of Don Corleone.
Evidence from the Green Lanes HQ helped convict Baybasin and 15 other men on charges of conspiracy to blackmail and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. When combined with his conviction for the drugs charges arising from operation Omega the stiff sentences were inevitable.
The Kurdish community has breathed a huge sigh of relief. There is also a sense of realism, recognising that the intimidation may stop for a while but there are plenty of smaller players ready to take the place of the Baybasins. The significant change in all this though, is that since November 2002, the police have built a credible relationship with the community. There are greater levels of trust now, which means people feel there is an alternative to silence.
Further questions may be asked about the alleged links between customs and excise and Husseyin Baybasin and whether this afforded Abdullah and his henchmen a chance to get a foothold in North London. Given the Baybasins were known to have criminal connections it seems curious that no-one seemed to challenge the purchase by the Baybasins of a detached Edgware home on a private estate….for cash.
An important lesson has been learned though by the Met in their dealings with this new London community. By getting effective cooperation from the community they were able to close down this organised criminal gang. The new Serious Organised Crime Agency is hoping to build on these results to make it increasingly risky for organised criminal gangs from overseas to gain a foothold in the capital and to bring murder and mayhem to our streets.
last updated: 19/05/2008 at 18:20