More members of FETÖ, the terrorist group blamed for the 2016 coup attempt, seek to flee abroad amid an increasing crackdown and calls by senior figures to leave Turkey.
Since the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 250 people was foiled, members of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which is accused of using its military infiltrators for the putsch, have left Turkey en masse.
The exodus - amid an elevated crackdown by Turkish security forces on the terrorist group - escalated recently and in part due to calls by top FETÖ figures, including the group's leader Fetullah Gülen, who cautioned followers about the arrests. Emre Uslu, a prominent member of the group who lives in the United States, was more clear in his warning and had told Gülenists to "leave wherever you are," in a recent tweet.
Turkey, meanwhile, stepped up security measures on its land and maritime borders. Like illegal immigrants, FETÖ members use the Aegean and Mediterranean route to reach Europe where most countries tolerate the terrorist group and even grant them asylum. Some also use the land border in northwestern Turkey adjacent to Greece and Bulgaria. Journeys are not without their risks though. Nine people were killed in the Aegean Sea and Meriç river in northwestern Turkey, including five children of FETÖ members, in the last ten days.
Most suspects who try to flee Turkey are those with outstanding arrest warrants and those dismissed from their public sector jobs for their links to the terrorist group. After the coup attempt was quelled, Turkey detained or arrested tens of thousands of people and through state of emergency decrees, dismissed thousands from the army, judiciary, law enforcement and other public sector jobs where FETÖ had massively infiltrated in the past.
Muhammet İkbal Yardımcı, a former judge, is among them. Yardımcı and 10 others were traveling aboard a boat heading to the Greek islands from the western city of İzmir on July 27 when their boat started taking water. The Coast Guard rescued the occupants of the boat and the fleeing suspects were detained. FETÖ members are usually slapped with prison terms up to 10 years if they are found guilty of membership of a terrorist organization and prison terms increase in proportion to their role in the group. Some are released with judiciary control. Former judge Yardımcı was released this way earlier.
In the past 10 days, Turkish border patrol intercepted 20 FETÖ suspects in Edirne, a city bordering Greece and Bulgaria. Suspects who were trying to sneak into Greece include former academics and lawyers dismissed from their jobs for links to the terrorist groups. A FETÖ suspect, meanwhile, lost his wife and two children when their boat heading to Greece via the Meriç river dividing the two countries, capsized on July 20.
Due to its location as the gateway to Europe, Greece has become a popular destination both for migrants and fleeing FETÖ suspects. Besides, the country is known for embracing FETÖ as its courts released and granted asylum to several soldiers involved in the 2016 coup attempt, after they fled into Greece by hijacking a military helicopter when the coup attempt was thwarted.
Fourteen FETÖ suspects were trying to reach Greece when their boat sank on July 29. Six died, including three children of suspects, and nine were rescued from the boat that sank off Turkey's Ayvalık coast. Two among the survivors were İ.A., the husband of a niece of Fetullah Gülen, who was a doctor expelled for his links to FETÖ and B.Ç., a businessman wanted for his links to the group and accused of funding FETÖ.
The largest escape attempt to Greece was on July 28. Fifty people, including soldiers and teachers wanted on charges of membership in a terrorist group and those dismissed from their public sector jobs for links to FETÖ, were intercepted aboard a boat traveling from Cyprus to the Greek island of Rhodes. Suspects were brought to Turkey earlier this week and were jailed.
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