Turkey Arrests over 1,000 ‘Secret Imams’ Who Allegedly Infiltrated Police Force

Police officers escort people, arrested because of suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, in Kayseri, Turkey, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. Police launched simultaneous operations across the country on Wednesday, detaining hundreds of people with suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. The suspects are allegedly Gulen operatives who directed …
Olay Duzgun/DHA-Depo Photos via AP

“One thousand and nine secret imams have been detained so far in 72 provinces, and the operation is ongoing,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu announced in an Ankara press conference on Wednesday.

By “secret imams,” he meant Gulenists, the followers of self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. The Turkish government blames Gulen, who currently lives in Pennsylvania, for the July coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The government portrays Gulen’s followers as a vast conspiracy that has infested almost every corner of the Turkish government.

The government refers to them as FETO, which stands for “Gulenist Terrorist Organization.” Gulen’s followers call themselves Hizmet, which means “service,” and insist they are peaceful exponents of a branch of Sufi Islam.

In addition to the huge number of arrests, Turkey’s police force announced that another 9,103 personnel were suspended. Reuters adds these totals to the 40,000 people arrested and 120,000 suspended from various positions since the coup attempt. The crackdown on Gulenists in the police force was one of the largest recent purges.

The BBC reports that Turkish police are seeking another 2,200 suspected of ties to Gulen. The BBC suspects Erdogan’s own AKP party — which he may soon resume formal control of since the recent referendum on Turkish presidential powers removed the requirement that he separate himself from it — could be the next purge target. The AKP is believed to likely be riddled with people linked to Gulen; Gulen and Erdogan were once staunch allies.

Erdogan listed FETO alongside the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Kurdish separatists of the PKK as forces he would continue to fight to preserve “democracy, fundamental rights, and liberties” in Turkey during a Tuesday interview.

“We are trying to cleanse members of FETO inside the armed forces, inside the judiciary and inside the police,” Erdogan said.

Those swept up in these purges deny that Gulen is running an organized conspiracy inside Turkey or accuse Erdogan of using the post-coup Gulenist purge as an excuse to crack down on political opponents and consolidate his power.

Along those lines, Deutsche Welle notes one other detention this week: a German-born Kurdish parliamentarian of the HDP party named Feleknas Uca. She has been accused of “membership in a terrorist organization” and was arrested because she failed to give a scheduled deposition in a court case against her. She was released after being brought to the courtroom to give her statement.

“More than a dozen Kurdish parliamentarians are currently in prison on allegations of ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK),” Deutsche Welle reports.


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