Police have detained 65 colonels in the latest operations against the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). The suspects, who were nabbed in nationwide operations yesterday, included soldiers on active-duty wanted by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office.
FETÖ is accused of orchestrating the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 250 people. It employed its infiltrators in the army, from noncommissioned officers to generals, to topple the government in a bid that ultimately failed thanks to public resistance.
Investigators discovered the suspects' links to the terrorist group by tracing communication traffic with civilian handlers using public payphones. Handlers, named "imam," are accused of relaying instructions on behalf of FETÖ to military infiltrators and used payphones to avoid detection after authorities uncovered multiple encrypted apps used for communication between the group's members. Some among the detained colonels were already suspended from duty for suspicion of links to the group. Eleven suspects were working at military bases in the capital Ankara while others were stationed at bases all across Turkey.
Investigators scanned some 500 payphones at busy places from restaurants to grocery stores to track the connection of the imams and "crypto" FETÖ members in the army.
Although thousands were detained, arrested or expelled from the army after the coup attempt for their links to the group, authorities believe there are more yet to be detected due to the utmost secrecy FETÖ used.
Last week, prosecutors in Istanbul launched one of the biggest operations against FETÖ-linked soldiers, issuing detention warrants for 300 people. The number of detainees rose to 200 Monday. Suspects, like those wanted by prosecutors in Ankara, were directed by their handlers via payphones. Media outlets reported that a major serving as head of a military unit providing security at the main trials of FETÖ in Istanbul's Silivri district was also detained in recent operations for his links to the terrorist group.
FETÖ had disguised itself as a charity with religious undertones for decades and is known for its widespread infiltration into the military, judiciary, law enforcement and bureaucracy. When the government moved to weed out what it called "a parallel state" of Gülenists from those institutions, the group moved to seize power.