An investigation into one of the most popular apps for members of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) identified over 92,000 users, officials say. Addressing a workshop on cybercrimes yesterday, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said a total of 92,702 individual users and 215,092 accounts used by FETÖ members were discovered.
Prior to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt blamed on military infiltrators of the terrorist group, Turkish intelligence discovered that FETÖ used ByLock and uncovered millions of messages, from simple greetings from the group's U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gülen to instructions on how to avoid detection. ByLock is believed to have been devised by developers linked to the terrorist group.
Servers of the app deployed in Lithuania were brought to Turkey where teams from the intelligence service have worked to decode them. Teams of IT experts are still working on deciphering tens of thousands of messages between members of the terrorist group via ByLock. They have managed to decode more than 18 million messages so far.
ByLock was discovered during criminal inquiries into the terrorist group, whose criminal activities have been in the spotlight since its two coup attempts in 2013. Unconfirmed media reports say that police intelligence staff linked to the terrorist group were behind the app. The FETÖ-linked staff working in a powerful intelligence department of the Turkish National Police were the "architects" of the app, or rather its modification to serve the purposes of the group.
Investigations show that 95 out of the first 100 people who downloaded and installed the app were personnel of police intelligence and the other five people were employees of the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK). TÜBİTAK was the target of mass infiltration by Gülenists in the past, and it is believed that the original developers of the application are linked to this state-run institution.
Prosecutors launched investigations and thousands of people, ranging from shopkeepers to high-ranking generals and bureaucrats, housewives and prominent businesspeople, were detained for exchanging messages via ByLock for acts of terror. Most of the suspects claim they "accidentally" downloaded the app and never used it, while others claim they did not use it for FETÖ messages. However, the messages, including those urging FETÖ members to help the coup plotters who killed 251 people in the 2016 coup attempt, point out that the app was one of the most frequently employed means of communication in the secretive group. Other encrypted messaging apps were used by FETÖ members after the authorities discovered ByLock's use.
FETÖ, which expanded its clout in Turkey over the past three decades, is known for its wide network of infiltrators in law enforcement, the military, judiciary and bureaucracy. The state of emergency declared after the coup attempt sped up the crackdown on the terrorist group's infiltrators. Tens of thousands were detained or arrested and dismissed from their jobs in the public sector after the attempt.
Soylu also recalled that Turkey has been the sponsor country for the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence since 2015. He said nearly 54,374 cybercrimes were committed in Turkey in 2018, while 18,330 people were arrested and went through judicial proceedings. "This figure includes child sexual abuse, exploitation of payment systems and infringement of information systems and phishing," he added.