By Ayhan Simsek and Mesut Zeyrek
BERLIN (AA): German police Wednesday searched the apartments of four Turkish imams as part of an investigation into alleged intelligence-gathering activities.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that the imams are suspected of being “engaged in intelligence activity” for a foreign secret service, by gathering information on members of the FETO terror organization, the group responsible for last July’s defeated coup in Turkey, according to Ankara.
The searches of the imams’ apartments in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate were carried out to find evidence supporting the claims, the statement said.
The office opened an investigation last month following media reports claiming several imams working at mosques of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) had gathered information on FETO members and their institutions in Germany, and reported them to Turkey’s state Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet.
The DITIB, the largest union of Germany’s Turkish community, has strongly denied any involvement in espionage, and said a number of imams had apparently misinterpreted a request by the Diyanet and sent information to Ankara.
DITIB’s secretary-general, Bekir Alboga, said Wednesday that the searches at the imams’ apartments were not “intended for any DITIB employees”.
Speaking to the reporters in Cologne, Alboga said the investigation targeted “a few individuals who have illegally gathered intelligence and reported it”.
He said they would not tolerate any unlawful acts in their institutions, adding they would continue to cooperate on projects with stakeholders in “churches, politics, media, and state”.
The union has more than 900 mosques around Germany, and most of their imams are sent from Turkey by the directorate, as part of a cooperation agreement between the two institutions.
The directorate announced early this month that it had ended the contracts of the imams involved in the incident and recalled them to Turkey.
Last September, the Turkish religious authority requested information from its representatives abroad on FETO activities in their countries, in order to prepare a comprehensive report to be discussed at the 9th Eurasia Islamic Council meeting.
The Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), led by U.S.-based Fetullah Gulen, is believed to have organized July’s attempted military takeover in Turkey, which left at least 248 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
Germany, which hosts a 3 million strong Turkish community, is among the countries where FETO has a large network with dozens of private schools, businesses, and media organizations.
A 2014 report by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said followers of the movement had founded more than 500 organizations across the country, including at least 24 schools and many cultural foundations.
Germany views FETO members with suspicion but the group is not outlawed in the country, with authorities stressing that such a move could only come after concrete evidence of criminality is presented.
[Archive Photo: Turkish people gather front of Cologne Cathedral to protest against failed coup in Turkey on july 16 2016 in cologne. Photographer: Mesut Zeyrek/AA]