Turkish spy agency ‘bundled up and brought back’ 80 people from 18 countries
LONDON - In covert operations in 18 countries, Turkey’s intelligence agency has snatched approximately 80 Turkish citizens the government wanted for alleged links to the country’s 2016 failed coup, a top Turkish official said.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag’s comments in an interview with Haberturk television came after Turkey secretly arranged the deportation from Kosovo of six Turkish men — five teachers and a doctor — accused of supporting the coup attempt.
Bozdag said Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) had similarly “bundled up and brought back” suspects linked to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen in covert operations in 18 countries. He did not name the countries but said such operations would continue.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin denied that the suspects were abducted through illegal operations. He insisted the six men from Kosovo were taken to Turkey in agreement with Kosovar authorities.
“We have never engaged in any illegal act in our struggle against (Gulen’s movement),” Kalin said. “The event in Kosovo took place… within the framework of an agreement on the return of criminals.”
Ankara has vowed to wipe out the influence of the Gulen movement in Turkey and foreign countries where it has built substantial influence, especially in education.
Turkey calls Gulen’s group the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO) and accuses it of being behind the July 15, 2016, coup bid. Gulen denies the charges, insisting he runs a peaceful movement known as Hizmet (Service).
Turkey has chased Gulen members inside and outside the country since the failed coup, with Erdogan pledging to cleanse state institutions of the “virus” of Gulen.
However, the figure of 80 disclosed by Bozdag is much larger than previously assumed and indicates MIT has had suspects taken without the information being published.
In March, six Turkish nationals alleged to be Gulenists were flown to Turkey from Kosovo in a covert operation carried out by the Pristina Interior Ministry and MIT. The operation sparked a crisis in Kosovo, with the prime minister and president protesting that they were not informed of the action.
Bozdag, however, trumpeted the Kosovo operation as an example of MIT’s success.
“MIT has dealt a big blow to FETO through operations carried out abroad,” Bozdag said. “The operation in Kosovo is a big accomplishment.”
Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj sacked his top security chiefs over their involvement in the operation, drawing an angry rebuke from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Hey, Kosovo prime minister, who told you to do this? Since when did you start to protect those who tried to launch a coup in Turkey?” Erdogan asked.
The Anadolu news agency in Ankara described the six men expelled from Kosovo as senior individuals in the Gulen movement, reporting they were organising the international travel of members.