Never removing his baseball cap and walking with his head down, Mustafa Kemal Şirin appears to be avoiding recognition. An ordinary-looking man, Şirin is actually a powerful figure within the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) who is rarely pictured. Yet, he was photographed in the Swedish capital of Stockholm recently by Türkiye's Sabah newspaper, which managed to track down various fugitive figures of the terrorist group wanted by Ankara.
Şirin is an “imam” for the Scandinavian region for FETÖ, a term used to describe country “managers” of the terrorist group. He is currently based in Sweden, which is relying on Türkiye to approve its NATO membership. Ankara, in turn, asks Stockholm to extradite terror suspects that target this future NATO ally.
He is the fifth name associated with FETÖ to have been spotted in Sweden by Sabah since October.
Expelled from Russia in 2003 on suspicion of espionage, Şirin found a safe haven in Sweden, which is also home to other fugitive members of the terrorist group who are nowadays pursuing a black propaganda campaign against Türkiye.
An experienced name within the terrorist group as country leader in Russia as well as Colombia, Şirin was appointed as country “imam” by the terrorist group’s senior cadres after he was expelled from Russia. In 2012, he founded the Swedish Turkish Business Network, an association linked to the terrorist group, in Sweden and for a long time, oversaw the lobbying activities on behalf of the terrorist group in the country. He was also behind the foundation of a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Belgium last year on behalf of the terrorist group.
After July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Türkiye perpetrated by FETÖ’s military infiltrators, Şirin raised his profile in Sweden. As Ankara sought the extradition of members of FETÖ who fled Türkiye following the foiled coup attempt, Şirin escalated his lobbying to prevent extradition efforts. He is in close contact with several Swedish politicians and cooperates with PKK, another terrorist group, in lobbying against Türkiye.
The terrorist group faces heightened scrutiny following its 2016 coup attempt. Security forces regularly carry out operations to capture FETÖ members in operations almost on a daily basis. On Tuesday, arrest warrants were issued for 77 suspects in separate investigations.
In Istanbul, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office sought the arrest of 34 suspects, and operations were carried out in five provinces to capture them. So far, 27 suspects were apprehended. Suspects include former and serving military officers, former cadets and seven civilians who are accused of serving as handlers for the terrorist group’s military infiltrators. Detainees were identified through their contacts with their handlers through public pay phones, a method commonly employed by the terrorist group to avoid detection.
Another operation based in the western province of Izmir sought the arrests of 28 suspects who were part of a network of military infiltrators of the terrorist group. Among the suspects were active-duty officers from the Land Forces Command, Air Forces Command and Gendarmerie forces, as well as former officers who were earlier expelled from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) on suspicion of ties to FETÖ.
In the southern province of Mersin, authorities ordered the arrest of 15 suspects, including former and serving military personnel, former military cadets, a former police officer and a teacher linked to the terrorist group.
The country’s struggle against FETÖ has netted thousands of its members since 2016. The TSK announced earlier this year that more than 24,000 members of the army were sacked since the coup attempt for possible ties to the terrorist organization.
The terrorist group, which had infiltrators in law enforcement, the judiciary and the bureaucracy, still has backers in the army ranks, though they managed to disguise their loyalty, as operations and investigations since the coup attempt indicated. According to an investigation by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which was made public in December 2020, the terrorist group began infiltrating the TSK more than four decades ago. Based on a report prepared by the Gendarmerie General Command, 22 of 239 students who graduated from military schools between the 1970s and 1990s were charged with involvement in the 2016 coup attempt, while 58 others were investigated for being a member of FETÖ following the failed putsch bid. While the students discharged from military schools could not continue carrying out their missions in the army, they still aided FETÖ's attempts by offering insight into the military's workings, playing an "active role" in establishing the hidden network inside the TSK, the report says.
FETÖ – led by Fetullah Gülen, who currently lives in the United States and is implicated in a long list of trials against the terrorist group – orchestrated the coup attempt with the aid of its military infiltrators and civilian members of the group who were in charge of those infiltrators.
Known for its secretive methods of communication, the group utilized everything from in-game chats in mobile games to pay phones to convey messages between its members while avoiding suspicion.