There is no evidence that self-exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen is behind the failed 2016 military coup in Turkey, the head of German intelligence said. Ankara claims the comments are a sign of Berlin backing the Gulen movement.
Bruno Kahl, the head of German intelligence (BND), told Der Spiegel the military coup of July 2016 “was probably a welcome pretext” for the Turkish government to unleash a sweeping crackdown on thousands of people suspected of having connections with Fethullah Gulen – a 75-year-old opposition cleric who Ankara says was the mastermind behind the failed putsch.
Kahl stressed that there was no evidence that the Gulen movement was involved in the July plot, saying, “Turkey tried to convince us at every level, but so far they didn’t succeed.”
Likewise, he dismissed Turkey’s claims that Gulen’s movement is an Islamist or even terrorist network: “The Gulenist movement is a civic association whose aim is to provide religious and secular education.”
The chief of intelligence did, however, rule out the idea that the coup was engineered by the Turkish government itself.
“The coup attempt was not initiated by the government. Before July 15 the government had already started a big purge so parts of the military thought they should do a coup quickly before it hit them too,” Kahl said.
Shortly after the interview, which adds to the ongoing flare-up between Turkey and some European countries that banned pro-Erdogan rallies ahead of the landmark vote to expand presidential powers, a brusque response came from Ankara. Ibrahim Kalin, the Turkish president’s spokesman, said the BND’s statement proves that Berlin supports the organization claimed to be behind the coup attempt.
“It's an effort to invalidate all the information we have given them on FETO [the Gulen movement]. It's a sign of their support for FETO,” Kalin told CNN Turk, as quoted by Reuters
While blunt and harshly worded, such remarks are not new. In November last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Germany of harboring various extremist organizations, including the Kurdish insurgency and the Gulen movement.
“We are concerned that Germany, which for years took the [Kurdish organizations] under its wings, has become the backyard of [the Gulen movement],” Erdogan said. “As I have always said, terror groups are like scorpions, sooner or later they will bite whoever carries them on their back.”
Gulen, who leads a popular movement called Hizmet – believed to be funding numerous businesses, think-tanks, private schools, and publishing houses around the world – is now living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania after he split from Erdogan in 2013. Last September, after Washington refused to extradite Gulen, citing lack of hard evidence, Erdogan told the US it should “not harbor a terrorist.”
“If the US is our strategic ally and our NATO partner... then they should not let a terrorist like Gulen run his organization,” Erdogan said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting, according to Reuters.
After the July putsch, more than 100,000 suspected Gulenists were fired from their jobs and 30,000 were arrested, including teachers, security personnel, army officers, opposition politicians, and journalists.
Meanwhile in Germany, home to a sizable Turkish diaspora, some pro-Erdogan imams from Ditib, the country’s largest association of mosques, were accused of spying on Muslim clerics siding with Gulen.
“Whoever uses Islam as a cover for espionage cannot rely [for protection] on the freedom of religion,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in February. “If the suspicion that some Ditib imams were spying is confirmed, the organization must be seen, at least in part, as a long arm of the Turkish government.”