Latin America is becoming the new base of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), where members aim to restructure, according to the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency's (TİKA) Colombia coordinator, Mehmet Özkan.
"In order to seemingly vanish, making themselves forgotten across Europe, they chose Latin America as a base since the continent is geographically far away from Turkey and Turks are not required to get a travel visa to go there," Özkan said, adding that they are restructuring in preparation for their next move and to implement plans in South America.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Özkan said that the organization is very powerful in Brazil and Argentina while it is still trying to gain strength in Colombia by organizing meetings in secret.
"South America is a continent where Turkish passports are valid and Turks are not required to obtain visas. They [can also apply for] U.S. [visas] in Latin America. So, while some members of the organization stay in Latin America, some travel directly to the U.S., using the continent as a kind of a station," Özkan said, indicating that FETÖ members who fled Turkey and came to Colombia applied with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, seeking asylum.
"They conduct their activities with ease here, since there are not many Turks searching for them," Özkan added.
He further said that they report the information regarding the terrorist group's activities to Turkey and Turkish embassies across the continent, emphasizing that TİKA specifically focuses on the social wing of the organization while embassies focuses more on the political wing.
"TİKA is more interested in the social structuring of the terrorist group. We inform universities of the failed coup attempt in Turkey. Similarly, we conduct conferences and make contact with media outlets. We also try to inform Latin American governments that FETÖ members are wanted in Turkey for their crimes rather than their ideology," Özkan said, indicating that TİKA has activities in the fields of education, health, and rural development across the continent.
Highlighting that the July 15 failed coup attempt was initially regarded as a staged performance by Latin American governments and that the media made publications in this respect, Özkan said that this situation was a result of the Latin American press taking the opinions of FETÖ members first. He expressed that this perception has changed with the activities of TİKA and similar institutions.
FETÖ, which operates around the world through a large network of schools, institutions and unions, is recognized as a terrorist group in Turkey. The government blames it for the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in the country that killed 249 people and wounded more than 2,000. The government says that Fetullah Gülen masterminded the coup attempt.
In the 1970s, what is now FETÖ emerged as a religious group and then a peaceful movement that advocated interfaith dialogue and worldwide education for the poor and needy. However, FETÖ's decades' long attempts to infiltrate the police, judiciary, military and other state institutions was seen in last year's coup attempt. A Presidency of Religious Affairs report says that Gülen's followers have been turned into robotic militants who do not question his leadership or orders.