The Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) blamed for the July 15 coup attempt are facing Turkey's biggest crackdown against Fetullah Gülen's secret point men. Some 8,500 policemen stormed locations in all 81 provinces across the country Wednesday, detaining more than 1,100 people while media outlets report that at least 3,000 people had outstanding detention warrants for links to the terrorist group. The operations, carried out simultaneously at the request of the Chief Prosecutor's Office in the capital city Ankara, target secret "imams" of the terrorist group who managed infiltrators of the secretive group within law enforcement. More detentions were expected as Daily Sabah went to print and operations were still underway in some cities.
From the city of Samsun in northern Turkey to Istanbul, local police detained suspects, mostly teachers, in counterterror operations. FETÖ is known for its widespread infiltration in law enforcement, the judiciary, the military and bureaucracy. The suspects are accused of guiding police officers and police chiefs loyal to the terrorist group on how to act, what to do for the group, which always sought to expand its clout in Turkey, and even blacklisting people critical of FETÖ, security sources say. The group's complex hierarchy has long helped its members to avoid detection.
Recent investigations have revealed that the cult had assigned unlikely members to lead a large group of infiltrators in the police force, namely, people in ordinary positions that would not attract attention such as primary school teachers and even shopkeepers. Thanks to FETÖ's widespread influence in the positions of law enforcement, the terror group has managed to carry out raids against its critics, imprison them on false charges and fabricate evidence, even wiretapping thousands of people, criminal inquiries have revealed.
It is not known what motivated Wednesday's raid but rumors are circulating that the nationwide detentions came after a list of "imams" was discovered in possession of a recently captured FETÖ member. The Sabah newspaper reported that the detentions were the culmination of an investigation based on testimony provided by incarcerated terror suspects, eyewitnesses and FETÖ members, the majority of whose infiltrators had already been weeded out of the police force by counterterror police forces but whose remaining infiltrators had managed to reshuffle its imams within the force. The newly appointed "imams" are also among those detained. The Sabah newspaper also reported that there were 4,672 "imams" appointed for law enforcement officials loyal to the group and some 1,448 of them have already been identified and could face charges.
These so-called "imams" are also accused of collecting "donations" for the terrorist group and supplying confidential documents related to police work to senior members of the terrorist group. Media reports say the number of imams having infiltrated the force also decreased after two coup attempts in 2013 and the infiltrators and imams had become "sleeper cells" after the July 15 coup attempt. After the putsch bid was foiled, thousands of people from the public sector, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the police were dismissed from duty and some were arrested for having links to the terrorist group.
Speaking about the detentions, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said the suspects "built some sort of alternative police force" within the Turkish National Police and defined the counterterror operations as "the most important step against [FETÖ's infiltration in the police force]."
The operations come after televised statements by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım 10 days ago regarding the government's efforts against FETÖ. Yıldırım named the group as "a complicated structure with still-unresolved relations," adding that authorities have recently made "an important discovery" about FETÖ that would "give a significant contribution to the fight against FETÖ."
The terrorist group, led by U.S.-based fugitive former preacher Fetullah Gülen, openly started a campaign to seize power in Turkey in 2013 when police chiefs and prosecutors linked to the group carried out two attempts to topple the government by implicating ministers in investigations based on forged evidence. When Ankara moved to contain the Gülenist threat, the terrorist group activated its infiltrators in the TSK and tried to topple the government once again last summer in a foiled putsch. Turkey seeks Gülen's extradition from the U.S. where he has lived in self-imposed exile since 1999. The terrorist leader faces life imprisonment in multiple cases related to the coup attempt and other wrongdoings. Recent investigations have revealed that law enforcement was one of the most widely infiltrated agencies by FETÖ with even some police chiefs volunteering to plot criminal cases - with the aid of prosecutors linked to the group - against critics of Gülen.