Police on Friday detained 72 people in operations targeting the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which is blamed for the 2016 coup attempt. Selçuk S., a nephew of FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen was among those detained in the eastern city of Malatya and western city of İzmir.
Operations targeted "absence houses," a name given to hideouts of secret FETÖ members.
In İzmir, an Aegean city where Gülen made a name for himself as a popular imam in the 1970s, police found 27 suspects in the operations that originally meant to capture 16 suspects wanted by authorities. Selçuk S. was among those. Most of the suspects were users of ByLock, an encrypted messaging app used by the terrorist group. After deciphering Bylock, Turkish authorities managed to identify a large number of suspects associated with the secretive group.
In Malatya, police raided 55 houses used as hideouts and detained 45 people. Authorities said 21 suspects had arrest warrants for them. Police found 11 fake IDs in the suspects' possession.
In a related development, authorities in Muğla, an Aegean province located near Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, cracked down on a gang of smugglers accused of helping FETÖ suspects flee to the Greek island of Kos. The gang's leader, a Greek national identified as Victor V. is among 14 detained suspects along with a Syrian national who allegedly helped smugglers remains at large. Authorities say the gang organized secret journeys for terrorist group's wanted members, including former police chiefs.
Greece is an apparent safe haven for FETÖ members, recent figures show. Some 144 suspects linked to the group blamed for last year's deadly coup attempt were intercepted by security forces en route to Greek islands from Turkey between October and November.
The suspects usually use speedboats to reach Greece, unlike refugees and migrants from Syria, Asian and African countries that board overcrowded rafts to travel to the islands they view as a gateway to Europe.
Between January and October, at least 60 FETÖ members were captured trying to illegally enter Greece and Bulgaria over the land border.
Ankara has criticized Greece for apparent tolerance in its courts of suspects involved in the coup bid. Earlier this year, a Greek court refused to extradite a group of putschist officers who hijacked a military helicopter and flew to Greece after the coup attempt was foiled.
FETÖ is accused of orchestrating multiple coup attempts in Turkey, and its members face terrorism charges. The group runs a network of schools and companies spanning the globe. Ankara has renewed efforts to extradite FETÖ suspects from abroad following last year's coup attempt.
High-ranking members of the terrorist group, including Gülen, were already abroad, while those in the lower ranks fled the country after its brutal coup attempt was suppressed. The Interpol liaison office of the Turkish police is spearheading efforts to bring back FETÖ members from abroad.
Since the coup attempt in 2016, tens of thousands of suspects have been detained or arrested for their links to the group and a large number of people have been dismissed from their public sector jobs for association with FETÖ and are on trial. Meanwhile, trials over the coup attempt are underway across the country, and putschist troops face life imprisonment for their involvement in the coup attempt.