German state warns Gulen followers of Turkish spy efforts

AP News
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Posted: Mar 28, 2017 12:41 PM

BERLIN (AP) — German officials on Tuesday warned Turkey against spying on its territory, after Ankara allegedly sought Berlin's help in eavesdropping on hundreds of Turks in Germany thought to be supporters of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The Turkish government claims Gulen supporters were behind a July coup attempt and has arrested 41,000 people in a crackdown on the moderate Islamic religious movement and other groups. Gulen denies orchestrating the failed coup. Turkey is seeking his extradition from the United States.

Last month, Turkey's foreign intelligence agency MIT handed its German counterpart a list of some 300 suspected Gulen supporters living in Germany. Boris Pistorius, the interior minister of the German state of Lower Saxony, said Tuesday that Turkey had asked the Germans to put the people named under surveillance.

Pistorius said officials in his state had decided to warn those on the list that they might face repression or arrest if they entered Turkey. He said there was "no evidence that Gulen supporters in Germany had anything to do with the attempted putsch."

He accused the Turkish government of having an "almost paranoid fear of conspiracy" and of trying to silence its critics.

Germany's top security official, Thomas de Maiziere, said the country would not tolerate foreign spying on its soil.

"That holds true for any foreign state and for every intelligence agency," he said.

The federal prosecutor's office has opened a preliminary investigation of the alleged actions of Turkey's MIT agency, the German news agency dpa reported Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors last month also raided the homes of four Islamic clerics affiliated with the union of Turkish-Islamic cultural organizations in Germany, or DITIB, who are suspected of passing information about opponents of the Turkish government on to the Turkish consulate in Cologne.

Turkey's top religious official at the time rejected accusations that the clerics were engaged in spying or any other illegal activity, but acknowledged that some had "exceeded their authorities" and were called back to Turkey.

Ercan Karakoyun, a spokesman for the Dialogue and Education Foundation in Germany, which is close to the Gulen movement, told The Associated Press that "we've been assuming for a long time that we're being spied on (by Turkish authorities) in Germany."

Many Gulen supporters in Germany had their passports confiscated by Turkish consulates, those with German passports were banned from entering Turkey, and several had their property in Turkey confiscated, Karakoyun said.

There are some 3 million people of Turkish origin in Germany. Relations between Berlin and Ankara have been strained recently by the spying allegations, but also by a German parliamentary motion labeling the killing of Armenians in Turkey a century ago as "genocide" and by Turkey's arrest of a journalist working for a German newspaper.

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Kirsten Grieshaber contributed reporting.