Security forces arrested 24 out of 29 suspects in simultaneous raids across Istanbul on safe houses used by members of Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) on Friday. Operations were underway for five others wanted as part of a probe by the Chief Prosecutor’s Office.
The probe focuses on “gaybubet” (absence) houses the terrorist group uses to hide its members. Most are rental places, rented by secret members of the terrorist group whose affiliation have not been uncovered yet by investigators, as past investigations show.
Among those wanted and captured were three teachers, a police chief expelled from his job on suspicion of links to the group, several civil servants, an academic and several doctors. Fugitive suspects were under surveillance by authorities. Police sources said they were using fake IDs and chose quiet neighborhoods for safe houses rented by people not associated with the terrorist group. Some were found staying alone while others shared one house.
Sources also said suspects were in possession of untraceable cellphones and used VPN services and other methods to not leave any digital footprints while remaining in contact with other members of the terrorist group.
The terrorist group’s leader Fetullah Gülen, in messages to his subordinates, had instructed the group’s members to hide to avoid prosecution, urging those planning to flee abroad not to “take risks” and to stick to safe houses. In articles on FETÖ-linked websites, the group’s members describe absence houses as “modern caves” resembling those that “prophets hid in to escape from their enemies.”
“Every minute you spend in absence house counts as an act of worship,” a social media post by a FETÖ member reads. The terrorist group long disguised itself as a charity movement with religious undertones while seeking to boost its infiltration in judiciary, law enforcement, military and bureaucracy in Turkey, with the ultimate goal of seizing power through a putsch. FETÖ faced a strong public resistance when it used these infiltrators for the coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Since then, tens of thousands of suspects linked to the group were detained or arrested while the group’s most prominent figures fled abroad. Gülen himself resides in the United States while his nephew Selman Gülen was among those captured in safe houses.