Turkish Secret Agents Seized 80 People in 18 Countries, Official Says
Erdogan has sought to strengthen his power since the coup attempt, tightening control over the government, the military, the media, courts, schools and the internet.
Turkish secret agents in 18 countries have seized 80 Turks suspected of having links to a group accused of plotting a coup in 2016 and returned them to Turkey, a senior government official said Thursday.
Bekir Bozdag, the deputy prime minister, hinted at audacious actions by Turkish intelligence operatives abroad under the increasingly authoritarian government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The scope of the arrests conjured up analogies to the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert seizures and imprisonments of suspects after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Speaking in a Turkish television interview, Mr. Bozdag did not specify how precisely such arrests had been carried out. Nor did he disclose where the suspects had been detained, except for the arrests that had been made public in Bulgaria, Malaysia and Kosovo. There have been unconfirmed reports in the Turkish press of arrests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan.
A spokesman for Mr. Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, said later that the arrests and extraditions had been handled legally and that Turkey intended to carry out more.
The Turkish officials said all of those arrested had been linked to Fethullah Gulen, the reclusive Turkish Islamic cleric who lives in Pennsylvania. A former ally of Mr. Erdogan’s and now one of the president’s biggest critics, Mr. Gulen has been accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating the coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Mr. Gulen and his organization have denied any role.
Mr. Erdogan has repeatedly pressed the United States to extradite Mr. Gulen, who has been called a terrorist by Turkey’s government. Turkish officials refer to his organization by the acronym FETO, which stands for “Fethullah Terror Group.”
Mr. Bozdag told the Haberturk television news channel that as of Thursday, Turkish intelligence agents had “bundled up and brought back 80 FETO members in 18 countries.”
Mr. Gulen’s organization in the United States, the Alliance for Shared Values, said Mr. Bozdag’s remarks were a “blatant admission” of what it called international lawbreaking and contempt for national sovereignty.
“Rather than being ashamed of such operations, they are boasting about them,” Alp Aslandogan, the organization’s executive director, said in response to queries by The New York Times.
“While we are not surprised by such announcements by the Erdogan regime,” he said, “what really matters is whether sovereign states will allow these operations on their soil and bend to the demands of an authoritarian Turkish ruler.”
Mr. Bozdag spoke less than a week after the arrests and deportations of six Turkish citizens from Kosovo, an action that Turkey said had been carried out by the authorities in Kosovo at its request. The six included teachers at schools financed by Mr. Gulen’s organization.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said the Turkish intelligence agency MIT had used a private aircraft to take the six back to Turkey.
President Erdogan’s spokesman cited those arrests on Thursday as an example of foreign cooperation with Turkey’s campaign against Mr. Gulen’s associates. But the arrests have caused a political tempest in Kosovo and have been criticized by human rights groups.
Kosovo’s prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, called the arrests a mistake and has ordered an investigation. Last Friday he dismissed his interior minister and the head of the secret service for failing to inform him of the arrests ahead of time.
Mr. Erdogan has insisted that Mr. Gulen and his supporters were behind the coup attempt, which had support from some in the military and was the most traumatic crisis in the country in many years. More than 250 civilians were killed and hundreds were wounded. Jets bombed the Parliament building in the capital Ankara and tanks crushed civilians who protested.
Mr. Erdogan has sought to strengthen his power since the coup attempt, tightening control over the government, the military, the media, courts, schools and the internet.
His subordinates have purged tens of thousands of people suspected of disloyalty from the government and the military, and thousands more have been arrested and charged with supporting terrorism.