German police on Feb. 15 raided the apartments of four imams suspected of conducting espionage on behalf of the Turkish government against followers of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, which Ankara
accuses of organizing the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
The raids took place in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany’s Spiegel reported on its website on Feb. 15.
The Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (GBA) said in a statement that the imams had acted on an order issued on Sept. 20 last year by the Turkey-based Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) which said the Gülen movement was behind the coup attempt, according to Reuters.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the four imams were members of Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB), Germany’s largest association of mosques, which brings imams from Turkey to serve the community of approximately 3 million people with a Turkish background who live here.
“It is very clear that the influence of the Turkish state on DİTİB is big. The association must plausibly disengage itself from Ankara,” Reuters quoted Maas as saying in a statement.
Last month, the GBA launched an investigation into Turkish intelligence operations on German
soil after a lawmaker filed a criminal complaint. Austria is also investigating whether Turkey has been operating an informer network targeting Gülen followers on its soil, via its embassy in Vienna.
The GBA said the Feb. 15 searches were aimed at finding more evidence to link the suspects to espionage activities.
“The suspects are suspected of having collected information about members of the so-called Gülen movement and passed it on to the general consulate in Cologne,” the GBA said.
On Feb. 10, Diyanet announced the recall and discharge of Turkish imams as part of DİTİB that Germany had accused of spying.
DİTİB said in a statement that they did not accept the accusations of spying but that they decided to take some measures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
While Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım is expected to pay a visit to Germany this week, Deutsche Welle Türkçe reported on Feb. 13 that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head, Hakan Fidan, would visit Berlin in the near future as an invitee of the head of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND).