Prosecutors in Ankara, Izmir, Istanbul and Kocaeli issued arrest warrants for at least 260 suspects on Tuesday in a new round of crackdowns against the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). In operations targeting the group's military infiltrators, 28 among the wanted were detained while a manhunt was underway to capture the other suspects.
FETÖ is accused of orchestrating the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 251 people and injured 2,200 others. It employed its military infiltrators for the attempt which was ultimately foiled thanks to a strong resistance by anti-coup public, police and military officers.
In the capital Ankara, the Chief Public Prosecutor's Office issued arrest warrants for 32 suspects in an investigation into FETÖ's network of infiltrators in the Air Forces Command. Twenty suspects were captured. Suspects include a colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, a major, two captains and soldiers from lower ranks. Their identities were discovered after a probe into their contact with FETÖ members via public payphones. FETÖ often resorts to this communication method to relay messages of high-ranking members of the terrorist group to infiltrators. Authorities say the group's handlers contacted infiltrators via calls from payphones at regular intervals and arranged secret meetings with them. Police launched operations in Ankara and 11 other cities to capture the suspects.
Another operation followed orders by the Chief Public Prosecutor's Office in İzmir, Turkey's third largest city. Prosecutors ordered the arrests of 35 suspects, including 20 active-duty officers. Like those wanted by prosecutors in Ankara, the suspects were in contact with FETÖ's "secret imams," a term used to describe the group's handlers for military infiltrators. Ten among the suspects were secret imams. Eight were arrested in operations in İzmir, Istanbul, Ankara, Kayseri and other cities. The civilian suspects were also users of ByLock, prosecutors say. ByLock is an encrypted messaging app developed and exclusively used by FETÖ members. Investigations into ByLock started prior to the 2016 coup attempt; however, they gained significance after the attempt. Authorities had deciphered messages revealing secret messages pointing to an imminent coup in operations after the coup bid. The Interior Ministry recently announced that 4,676 new ByLock users were detected in the investigation that already identified more than 95,000 users.
Prosecutors in Istanbul issued arrest warrants for 176 active-duty soldiers for FETÖ links, including a colonel and soldiers of lower ranks. The Chief Public Prosecutor's Office in Istanbul said in a statement regarding the investigation for which the suspects were wanted that a probe was launched following the coup attempt over FETÖ's military infiltration. "The group's leader, Fetullah Gülen, and its handler responsible for infiltration in the army, Adil Öksüz, orchestrated the coup attempt with its infiltrators who formed secret cells made of two or three members. None knew each other. FETÖ has more members in the Turkish Armed Forces than those who actively participated in the 2016 coup attempt, and it is known that there are still more suspects yet to be uncovered. Thus, FETÖ still poses a grave danger to the state," the statement said. The statement noted that Istanbul's Chief Public Prosecutor's Office has been conducting investigations since November 2017 to uncover FETÖ's military infiltrators and "discovered a secret channel of communication between the terrorist group's civilian members and military officers linked to the group, through public payphones. Since then, arrest warrants were issued for 2,287 suspects and 1,980 of them were captured."
The prosecutor's office also noted that 515 suspects captured in earlier operations agreed to collaborate with authorities in exchange for lenient sentences, and they were released as information they provided helped operations against FETÖ. It said 222 suspects were released as no evidence was found regarding their links to FETÖ, or they agreed to collaborate with authorities, while 1,233 others were arrested. Those wanted in Tuesday's operations were officers from the army's Land Forces Command, Air Force Command, Naval Forces Command and Coast Guard Command.
Elsewhere, prosecutors in Kocaeli, a city east of Istanbul, issued arrest warrants for 17 FETÖ suspects, including five active-duty soldiers, nine former soldiers and eight former cadets.
Turkey accuses FETÖ of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary. After the coup attempt, tens of thousands of people were detained or arrested for suspected links to the terrorist group.