Turkey Claims 10,000 Under Investigation for Online Terror Activity

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
The Associated Press

The Turkish government reportedly announced this weekend that it is monitoring 10,000 people who they believe may be using the internet for “terror-related activity.” The report follows a week in which over 1,500 people were arrested on terrorism charges, most for links to U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The Agence-France Presse reports that the Turkish Interior Ministry suggested some of the 10,000 under surveillance behaved in a way that attracted police attention online, specifically on social media. They are being investigated, according to a government statement, as part of a larger “fight against terrorism, which continues with determination everywhere, including on social networks.” The statement did not elaborate on which terrorist groups these individuals may have ties to.

The Turkish government considers Hizmet, a movement consisting of charter schools launched by Gulen in Turkey and the United States, a terrorist organization (the Fethullah Terrorist Organization, FETO). The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also considers Kurdish separatist groups – like the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the anti-Islamic State People’s Protection Units (YPG and YPJ) in Syria – terrorist organizations. Gulen operates freely in the United States, though he has been the subject of FBI raids, while the U.S. military cooperates with the YPG on the group. The PKK is, however, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

The Turkish government has officially accused Gulen of orchestrating the failed July 15 coup against Erdogan, and Erdogan himself has claimed Gulen planned the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov, killed by 22-year-old police officer Mevlüt Mert Altintas earlier this month.

Following the failed coup, Turkey detained, arrested, or dismissed from government jobs over 100,000 people for alleged ties to Gulen. Altintas and his family were reportedly investigated, but police found no reason to dismiss Altintas from his position. Altintas used his police identification to enter the gallery where Karlov was speaking openly carrying a firearm.

Turkey has placed significantly more emphasis on combatting Gulen than jihadist groups like Al Qaeda or the Islamic State. Highlighting this disparity is the news out of Ankara that police have detained 1,682 people for “links to terrorist organizations,” according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Of those, 1,096 are suspected of ties to Gulen’s organization. 78 were suspected of having ties to the Islamic State and, of those, only 12 formally arrested.

In addition to these arrests, police have once again targeted officials of the center-left, Kurd-friendly Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Police detained senior official Aysel Tugluk on Monday, according to Anadolu, over an investigation related to the PKK.

The arrest is the latest in a string that followed the removal of legislative immunity from HDP members earlier this year. Shortly following the passage of that law, HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag were arrested in their homes on terrorism charges, along with dozens of other HDP officials, triggering the not-uncommon sight of a physical altercation in the Turkish Parliament.

While Erdogan has focused on Kurdish terrorist groups and followers of Gulen, the Islamic State have made clear they will continue to target Turkish soldiers so long as Erdogan continues to deploy them into Syria and Iraq. Last week, the Islamic State released a graphic video showing jihadists “walking” captured Turkish soldiers like dogs on a leash before burning them alive. “You burned the Muslims, O Government of Turkey,” a caption on the bottom of the video reads. “So this will be your fate with the permission of Allah.”

Altintas, shortly after shooting Karlov dead at an art gallery, repeatedly shouted “allahu akbar” and called his act “revenge” for the Sunni jihadist groups fighting in Aleppo, Syria, where Russia has engaged in military operations in support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Despite the Islamist rallying cry and reported presence of al-Qaeda material in Altintas’ apartment, the Turkish government has repeatedly accused him of having ties to Gulen, with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu claiming that the Russian government agrees, though Moscow has cautiously refrained from speculating on which terror group could have radicalized Altintas.