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The full version of this analysis can be found on Militant Leadership Monitor, Volume 3, Issue 11

Murat Karayilan joined the separatist terrorist organization the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK) by the end of the 1970s. Right before the military coup that took place in September 1980 in Turkey, Karayilan was among the PKK militants that fled to Syria, where Hafez al-Assad’s regime offered shelter and support to the organization. By 1998, the PKK faced a major crisis: the Syrian regime stopped providing any direct support to the organization and expelled Abdullah Ocalan, its founder and leader, from his safe house in Damascus. In the following months, Turkish authorities captured and imprisoned Ocalan, who called for the PKK’s militants to withdraw from Turkey. In such a critical moment, Karayilan took over from the group’s imprisoned leader, and managed to reorganize the PKK. Since then, while Abdullah Ocalan has maintained a cult-like ideological leadership over PKK members and sympathizers, and despite the internal divisions that recently emerged within the organization, Karayilan has been commonly acknowledged as the organization’s operational leader. (…)