Three senior figures of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which is blamed for the 2016 coup attempt, were remanded in custody days after they were brought from the tiny African country Gabon where they took shelter.
After hours of interrogation by a court in Istanbul, Osman Özpınar, İbrahim Akbaş and Adnan Demirönal were formally arrested on charges of running a terrorist group and international espionage.
The trio was arrested in Gabon's capital Libreville and was brought to Turkey on April 10 by security forces. The operation was the latest step in the international manhunt against the group that brought 80 FETÖ suspects to justice after their arrests abroad.
All three suspects were being sought by separate arrest warrants issued by Turkish courts on charges of membership to an armed terrorist group. The suspects were detained by Gabonese security forces on March 23.
Özpınar, who was the manager of the FETÖ-linked "Gabon International Turkish School" in Libreville, also held the titles of educational coordinator and general director at the "Light Academy" schools in Kenya. He was also among the detected users of FETÖ's secret communication application Bylock. Demirönal was the manager of the FETÖ-linked Işık Schools in Gabon, formerly known as Ecole Privee International Turco-Gabon. He is also accused of being the country "imam" in Gabon for FETÖ, a name given to the terrorist group's point men responsible for followers in lower ranks in the group's hierarchy. Akbaş, who was also a ByLock user, was the general manager of Işık Schools in Gabon while managing the money transfer of the terrorist group from Europe to Africa. Prosecutors have also asked the court to charge the suspects with espionage, citing FETÖ's role as an intelligence-gathering entity on behalf of the countries it cooperates with. "The true purpose of FETÖ's schools, especially those in the Balkans, Africa, Turkic republics is recruiting children of influential people in those countries, from statesmen to businesspeople for their own ideological agenda," prosecutors say.
In a similar operation on March 29, six FETÖ executives in Kosovo were detained in a joint operation by Turkish and Kosovar intelligence agencies and brought to Turkey.
Both before and after the 2016 coup attempt that killed 250 people, hundreds of FETÖ members fled abroad. Ankara now seeks more cooperation from the international community to bring them to justice. Media reports said that the country has so far identified some 4,600 suspected members of the group around the world. Turkish courts also periodically issue arrest warrants for FETÖ members abroad. A court in Ankara has asked the Justice Ministry last week to file extradition requests for 54 senior members of the group including Fetullah Gülen.
The terrorist group runs a global network of schools and companies. It has long disguised itself as a charity organization with religious affiliations before attempting to seize power in Turkey in 2013. FETÖ suspects mostly live in the U.S., Germany, the U.K. and Canada. A majority of Turkey's allies in Africa and Asia have shut down FETÖ-linked schools and have already extradited wanted suspects.