The largest Islamic association in Germany, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), has admitted that members of the organisation have spied on opponents and critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The DITIB Secretary General Bekir Alboga admitted that imams within the organisation had passed on information about supporters of Imam Fethullah Gülen, who President Erdoğan claims were behind the attempted Turkish military coup in July of last year.
According to Mr. Alboga the Directorate of Religion, or Diyanet, in Turkey had not ordered the group to inform on supporters of the Gülen movement, but some imams did so anyway, Die Welt reports.
“We deeply regret this mishap and have spoken to Diyanet about this,” Alboga said.
Ercan Karakoyun, a spokesman for the Gülen movement, which is more commonly known as Hizmet, said, “thousands of people from the Hizmet movement avoid mosques they contributed to for 30 years because of Erdogan’s instrumentalization of DITIB”. He added, “Imams should actually have a de-escalating effect. Instead, they are adding fuel to the fire”.
Ali Ertan Toprak, chairman of the Kurdish community in Germany, said he wasn’t surprised by the news and told German media that the government in Ankara had control over DITIB. He said that any governments who engage with DITIB were putting the future of Islam in Germany in the hands of the Turkish government.
Toprak also mentioned that Turkish Islam was becoming more Islamist and more nationalist in its character and said he was scared of the fact that German politicians seemed reluctant to tackle the issue.
The spokesman for the Green party in the German parliament Volker Beck, who was arrested for crystal meth possession last year and claimed Germans should all learn Arabic, said that the association must name the imams who carried out the spying.
“DITIB’s attempt to explain everything as a ‘mishap’ is hardly believable when taking into account the dependence of DITIB on the Diyanet in Ankara and the role of the Turkish embassy and consulate in directing the association and its structures,” he said.
Since the failed coup in Turkey, relations between Turkey and Germany have become increasingly strained. Shortly after the coup, thousands of Turks gathered in Cologne to protest their support for Erdoğan and opposition groups like Hizmet and Kurds have reported growing threats.
Last year, a report claimed that there could be at least 6,000 Turkish spies in Germany and Austria (which also has a large Turkish population). One spy, in particular, was even accused of trying to assassinate opponents of the regime in Germany and Belgium.