FETÖ's hideouts flourish after crackdown on terrorist group

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ISTANBUL
Published 04.09.2017 23:11
Updated 04.09.2017 23:14
FETÖ's hideouts flourish after crackdown on terrorist group

'Gaybubet' (absence) houses used as hideouts for fugitive members of FETÖ have increased over the past four years as Turkey steps up its crackdown on the terrorist group blamed for last year's coup bid that killed 249 people

As its activities face heightened scrutiny following multiple attempts to seize power, the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) apparently strove to hide its fugitive followers, according to its former followers. A former member who testified to prosecutors say that the number of the group's "gaybubet" houses increased from 75 to 560 across Turkey. Gaybubet means "absence" in FETÖ jargon and they are used by the terrorist group to hide its followers who are being sought for several crimes since 2013, the year when its infiltrators in the police and judiciary sought to seize power in two disguised coup attempts targeting the government.

An indictment by Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office against 731 secret followers of the terrorist group in law enforcement gives an account of how gaybubet houses operate. A former member of the group, who was taken into the witness protection program after handing out lists of the secret FETÖ network, told the prosecutors that the group mobilized to collect money to cover the expenses of fugitive members or those dismissed from their public duties for their links to FETÖ.

The documents handed over by the secret witness to the authorities show that most fugitive members of the group stayed in hideouts provided by relatives or friends while others were accommodated in those "safe houses" across Turkey.

FETÖ members pay a fraction of the rent and bills for each house, a document detailing the group's "expenses" show. Documents including correspondence between the group's members also point out that the group is in financial bottlenecks due to increasing crackdown and declining public support for the group, which once gained followers by posing as a religious charity.

Another investigation into the FETÖ militants revealed that the group collected TL 3.5 million ($1 million) monthly from its followers as "donations" and used it to finance its crimes. The militants also garnered gold worth TL 18 million from its followers, the investigation into the so-called "secret imams" of the group who were responsible for coordinating infiltrators in law enforcement shows. The money, dubbed "himmet" (donation) by FETÖ, was used for multiple purposes, from covering the expenses of lawyers defending the group's members to financing the escape of wanted Gülenists abroad and for expenses for hideouts in Turkey where fugitive militants stayed.

FETÖ is accused of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt last year that killed 248 people and injured hundreds when putschist troops indiscriminately fired at anti-coup civilians across the country. The terrorist group, which posed as the religious "Hizmet" (Service) Movement for decades, had moved to seize power in multiple coup attempts over the past four years when the government moved to curb its widespread clout in Turkey. Since then, a string of investigations disclosed that Gülenists were involved a wide array of crimes, from money laundering to orchestrating sham trials to imprison critics and conspiring against anyone opposing FETÖ.

The investigation also shows the group, upon orders from its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gülen, funded think tanks, social media accounts and other outlets for pro-FETÖ propaganda by money collected from its followers and financially supported FETÖ-linked civil servants, soldiers and others dismissed from duty after the foiled putsch bid. A tranche of donations was used to finance FETÖ-linked companies. The group runs a global network of schools and companies that rapidly grew thanks to money collected from its followers under the guise of charity donations.

FETÖ is accused of planting its members everywhere, from the police to the judiciary, the army and bureaucracy for years. Disguising their ties to the group, followers managed to rise to the top ranks. They became generals in the army and senior police chiefs. Through "imams," FETÖ monitored the infiltrators and gave them orders. Imams are often unassuming figures, such as a shopkeeper in a small town or a teacher, but they held immense power within the group, commanding police chiefs, generals and high-ranking bureaucrats.

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