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  • Huseyin Baybasin—Europe’s Pablo Escobar
  • Brian G. Carlson

In November 2002, a vicious street battle erupted in the middle of a busy thoroughfare in north London called Green Lanes. Known for its preponderance of greengrocers and cafes that seem to do little business but receive plenty of deliveries, the street burst into violence that shattered windows and the mid-afternoon calm. For little more than a quarter of an hour, more than 40 men armed with guns, knives and baseball bats went at each other, leaving 20 injured and a 43-year-old father of two dead from stab wounds—an innocent bystander caught in the fray.

While dingy, Green Lanes lacks the outward appearance of a drug-trafficking hub, but it is a major link in the British heroin trade. Police suspected the brawl grew out of gang tensions and disputes over the British heroin trade, run largely by north London's Turkish and Kurdish communities. In particular, the violence could be traced to the prison cell of Huseyin Baybasin, a man the Observer called the "Pablo Escobar of the heroin trade." Baybasin is currently serving a 20 year prison sentence in the Netherlands, but he is nevertheless thought to control a vast European heroin empire. In his absence, his relatives have run that empire with an iron fist.

In 2001, Dutch police arrested Baybasin. He pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to murder, kidnapping and drug-smuggling. Baybasin freely admitted to being involved in the transport of narcotics but claimed he had done so at the Turkish government's behest. The Dutch court did not buy his defense, and a conviction brought 20 years in prison.

According to the Observer, Baybasin, an ethnic Kurd, hails from the small Turkish district of Lice. He is thought to have been involved in smuggling drugs for more than 30 years, amassing a tremendous fortune estimated to be in the billions.

Baybasin's 2001 arrest was not his first encounter with police. In 1984, he was arrested in London for heroin trafficking and sentenced to 12 years in prison. After serving just three years, Baybasin was sent to Turkey, at which point he was immediately released, raising accusations of corruption in the Turkish government.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service in London estimates that Turkish and Kurdish gangs are responsible for importing up to 90 percent of Britain's heroin, worth millions of pounds per year. Baybasin and his family control a substantial portion of that trade. The gangs—which tend [End Page 69] to cross ethnic lines and even encompass the local Greek and Greek Cypriot populations—have fought for control of the market, leading to murders and nasty confrontations like the street fight described above.

According to reporting by the Observer and the Evening Standard, Baybasin's associates bully young men in the Turkish and Kurdish communities of London into working for them and then provide guns and money supplied directly by the Baybasin family. The tons of contraband moving in white vans mean local kingpins want no part of street-level dealing. These gangs also force businesses to pay protection money. In addition to its activities in Britain, the Baybasin family is alleged to have extensive heroin smuggling operations in Turkey, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain.

In the five years before the London brawl, law enforcement attributed 25 murders in the city to the various heroin gangs, some carried out execution-style, although most receive little attention due to journalists' fears of retribution. Two of Baybasin's brothers, Abdullah and Sirin Baybasin, have been arrested in London. Interpol has opened files on at least 12 other Baybasin family members and dozens of associates. Yet authorities believe that Baybasin, despite sitting in a Dutch prison, is as powerful as ever.


Steve Boggan, et al., "War on the Godfathers." Evening Standard (London), Nov. 21, 2002, 16.
Tony Thompson, "Heroin ‘emperor’ brings terror to UK streets." Observer (London), Nov. 17, 2002, 10. [End Page 70]


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