Authorities issued arrest warrants for 12 suspects linked to the Gülenist Terrorist Group (FETÖ) Wednesday. Operations are underway in the western province of Izmir and in Istanbul to capture the suspects.
They are wanted as part of a Chief Prosecutor's Office investigation in Izmir. The suspects were allegedly users of Bylock, an encrypted messaging app developed and exclusively used by the terrorist group.
In 2020, Turkey's top court had ruled that Bylock was sufficient evidence for any defendants' link to the terrorist group in trials of FETÖ suspects. Since then, more and more people are convicted of ties to the group.
ByLock was discovered during criminal inquiries into the terrorist group, whose criminal activities have been under the spotlight since two coup attempts in 2013. The National Intelligence Organization (MIT) uncovered the messaging app programmed or modified for the exclusive use of the group's members by someone linked to the FETÖ.
According to media reports, the FETÖ-linked staff working in a powerful intelligence department of the Turkish National Police were the "architects" of the app, or rather its modification to serve the purposes of the group. A group of intelligence officers has been accused of controlling the private app used to deliver Gülen's messages to his followers, as well as to instruct the group's members on how to carry out plots against anti-Gülenists. Investigations show that 95 out of the first 100 people who downloaded and installed the app were personnel of police intelligence and the other five were employees of the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBITAK). The TÜBITAK was the target of mass infiltration by Gülenists in the past and it is believed that the original developers of the application were linked to this state-run institution. Servers of the app deployed in Lithuania were brought to Turkey, where teams from the intelligence service work to decode them.
Most of the defendants claim they "accidentally" downloaded the app and never used it, while others claim they did not use it for FETÖ messages. However, the messages, including those urging FETÖ members to help the coup plotters, show that the app was one of the most-employed means of communication in the secretive group. FETÖ members later used other encrypted messaging apps after the authorities discovered ByLock's use.
Last year, a United States citizen of Turkish descent, who was the license owner of the original version of Bylock, had surrendered to Turkish authorities and confessed to his ties to FETÖ.
The terrorist group faced heightened scrutiny following the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, its deadliest bid to seize power. Following the attempt, during which the terrorist group's military infiltrators killed 251 people, countless operations have been carried out to bring putschists and other FETÖ members to justice. Tens of thousands of people were arrested or detained while operations continued against infiltrators in law enforcement, judiciary, military and bureaucracy who managed to hide their ties with the terrorist group so far.