A woman enters a building of the union of Turkish-Islamic cultural organizations in Germany, or DITIB, on February 15, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
German prosecutors have launched an investigation into a case involving 20 people suspected of spying for Turkey on alleged followers of a cleric whom Ankara blames for the last year coup attempt.
Germany’s Interior Ministry said Thursday that the suspects had been investigated by federal prosecutors on suspicion of denouncing to Ankara the people believed to be supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
“At the moment, a total of 20 accused and persons unknown are under investigation over suspicions that they worked as secret service agents on the orders of the Turkish government, and spied on followers of the Gulen movement,” said the ministry in response to a query in the German Parliament from the Left party.
Turkey accuses Gulen of masterminding the failed coup in July 2016, during which more than 270 people lost their lives. Gulen has denied any involvement.
Immediately after the coup, Ankara launched a crackdown, which has seen more than 40,000 arrested and over 110,000 others discharged from their jobs.
Turkey’s post-coup clampdown has strained ties with Germany. Berlin says Ankara has acted beyond the rule of law in the clampdown while Turkey says Germany has failed to duly condemn the coup.
The German Interior Ministry said the 20 people included 16 known suspects and four others but did not elaborate as to how many were still in the European country because the probe was still going on.
This file photo shows Turkish opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen speaking to members of the media at his compound in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo by AP)
It also did not say whether those under investigation included preachers working in Turkey-backed religious centers across Germany.
Four clerics were arrested in Germany in February as part of a similar espionage probe. Authorities said at the time that the clerics were suspected of spying on Turkish government opponents. The clerics, whose documents were confiscated during a raid into their houses, were affiliated with the union of Turkish-Islamic cultural organizations in Germany, or DITIB.
Berlin says Turkey has been steadily sending more clerics to DATIB, a sign that Ankara may have intensified espionage activities in Germany.
Germany and Turkey have also been at odds over a number of other issues, including Berlin’s alleged support for Turkish Kurdish militants.
Germany has also barred senior Turkish government officials from attending demonstrations in the country to rally support for a referendum in April on changes in Turkey’s constitution.
Germany is home to more than three million ethnic Turks, the largest population of Turkish expats in the world.
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