Security forces rounded up 89 suspects in nationwide operations against the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) on Tuesday. Operations launched by prosecutors in Istanbul, the capital Ankara and the western city of Izmir target the group’s network of infiltrators in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Captured suspects include former military officers, active-duty officers and their civilian handlers.
In the capital Ankara, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office investigating a secret communication scheme between infiltrators and the group’s civilian members ordered the arrest of 25 suspects. Suspects were members of a FETÖ network in the Turkish Air Forces Command (HvKK). Eighteen suspects were captured in Ankara and 13 provinces while a manhunt was underway for others. All suspects are noncommissioned officers and 21 among them were already dismissed from the army on suspicion of having links to the terrorist group.
FETÖ, which managed to plant its infiltrators everywhere from law enforcement to the judiciary and from the bureaucracy to the military, has moved to topple the government with various schemes in recent years. The group, which hid behind the benign image of a charity movement with false religious undertones, openly tried to overthrow the government for the first time in 2013 though it is accused of hatching plots against the government earlier. In December 2013, members of the police and judiciary linked to the group tried to implicate the government in a corruption probe based on forged evidence. When the probe was thwarted and FETÖ was designated as a national threat, it turned to its military infiltrators. On July 15, 2016, military officers, from generals to lieutenants who were affiliated with the group, staged a coup attempt. The attempt was thwarted but killed 251 people and injured nearly 2,200 others.
The group faced heightened scrutiny after the 2016 attempt, and operations against FETÖ are being held almost on a daily basis. Hundreds of military infiltrators were discovered and arrested in investigations while tens of thousands were arrested for links to the group. The state of emergency declared after the coup attempt sped up the crackdown on the terrorist group's infiltrators. Some FETÖ members managed to flee abroad, while others are believed to still be hiding their ties to the group.
Several former members confessed to authorities that senior figures of the group trained them on how to avoid being detected while serving in the army, law enforcement or judiciary.
Suspects captured upon orders of prosecutors in Ankara were in touch with their handlers via payphones to hide their tracks. According to former members of the group, payphones are used to arrange secret meetings where military infiltrators are delivered orders from the group’s senior members.
Security sources said noncommissioned officers detained in Tuesday’s operations had ties to FETÖ before the start of their military careers and studied for military school exams in houses run by FETÖ. All had intimate contact with “imams” or the group’s handlers while in the military and regularly met with them in small groups.
In Istanbul, prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 62 people including so-called “imams” and active-duty soldiers for links to the terrorist group. Thirty suspects were arrested in operations in Istanbul and 15 provinces. Captured and wanted suspects were part of a FETÖ network in the Turkish Naval Forces Command (DzKK). They were identified through an investigation into payphone use by the terrorist group and confessions of former members who collaborated with authorities in exchange for lenient jail terms.
In another operation, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office in Izmir, the western Turkish city where FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen rose to prominence as a preacher decades ago, ordered the arrests of 54 suspects. Again, most suspects were members of TSK and noncommissioned officers working in different branches of the army, from naval forces to Gendarmerie General Command (JGK). Thirty-seven among them were serving soldiers and 41 suspects were arrested while others remain at large. Police launched operations in Izmir and 39 cities to capture suspects who had contact with FETÖ handlers.