Authorities Tuesday launched a nationwide operation to capture point men in the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) in the army and 20 suspects out of 120 with outstanding detention warrants were captured. The terrorist group is accused of masterminding the foiled coup attempt of July 15 and executing it with a small junta of officers with links to the cult run by U.S.-based Fetullah Gülen, a retired preacher. Authorities also announced yesterday that the number of military officers using an encrypted app exclusively employed by FETÖ rose to 236 in an investigation carried out by the Istanbul chief prosecutor's office.
Tuesday's operations targeted "brothers" in the Turkish Air Forces, which are members of the cult assigned to the infiltrators in the army. Police raided several locations in 30 cities as part of a probe by the chief prosecutor's office in the central city of Konya where a major Turkish air base is located. Among those with detention warrants was the brother of Mehmet Baransu, a prominent journalist charged with FETÖ membership. Baransu has made a name for himself after he published a series of documents implicating the top military brass in a coup attempt years ago. The documents allegedly helped FETÖ-linked prosecutors and judges to imprison critics of Gülenists in the army and paved the way for further infiltration into the Armed Forces by Gülenists. Another Gülenist figure, identified only by his initials as A.C., is wanted as part of the inquiry into FETÖ's "brothers" and he allegedly has close ties to Kemal Batmaz and Adil Öksüz, two senior figures of the terrorist group accused of devising the coup plot. Adil Öksüz, who was released in a controversial court verdict after he was detained at a military base after the coup was quelled, remains at large, while Kemal Batmaz is held in a prison in Ankara.
Öksüz, originally a theology lecturer, is in the "red" category on the most wanted terrorists list of the Interior Ministry, which includes terror suspects with the highest rewards for their capture. He is considered an "army imam," one of the point men in a higher rank than "brother", carrying out Gülen's orders to seize power in Turkey and coordinate infiltration efforts in key posts. He is accused of planning the coup attempt in secret meetings with military officers in the capital Ankara days before putschists moved to seize power and killed 248 people confronting them. He later had the approval of Fetullah Gülen for the plans a few days before the putsch. Kemal Batmaz, a former executive of a paper company linked to FETÖ, is considered to be a higher figure than Öksüz within the cult and although he denied having connection to Öksüz, the two were repeatedly photographed walking together at an Istanbul airport before and after their trips to the United States and media outlets reported dozens of phone calls between the duo.
FETÖ members face charges of membership of a terrorist organization and attempt to overthrow the government that carries possible lifetime imprisonment terms. Detention warrants were issued based upon confessions of Gülenist suspects invoking a remorse law that reduces their sentences.
Prosecutors say Gülenists were assigned to one officer or more than one after the officers were recruited by the cult. Point men assigned to the officers were changed frequently to avoid suspicion and recruits were chosen by the degree of their loyalty to the terrorist group. Past investigations have revealed that FETÖ picked the infiltrators at early ages and most were cadets when they were first recruited. They were instructed to attach importance to secrecy in order to not to draw attention to their links to the group. After 2009, FETÖ stepped up the secrecy of its "brothers" who command officers of all ranks, from lieutenant to generals.
Also yesterday, state-run Anadolu Agency reported that 236 officers out of the 530 who had outstanding detention warrants were captured. The military officers were inquired about their links to the terror cult for their use of Bylock, an encrypted message app almost exclusively used by FETÖ members in Turkey. The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor's office had issued detention warrants for the military officers among the Bylock users. Some suspects were already dismissed from the army for their possible ties to the terror cult.
More than 40,000 suspects have been arrested for links to FETÖ since the coup attempt.
After the defeated coup, public prosecutors have taken legal action on 101,799 people, and 40,832 of them have been jailed as part of the anti-terror investigations into FETÖ, which has been in the spotlight since its two attempts to overthrow the government in 2013.
The terror cult is known for its widespread infiltration into law enforcement, judiciary, military and bureaucracy. Its leader Gülen faces multiple arrest warrants in several cases, from the coup attempt to illegal wiretapping of hundreds of people, as well as sham trials by judges and prosecutors loyal to him.