(DW) A German investigation into Turkey’s religious officials collecting information on its enemies may be the tip of the iceberg. DW has obtained several documents revealing Turkish activities in Germany and European states.
German police on Wednesday raided the homes of four imams alleged to have spied on the opposition for the Turkish government. The police action is part of an investigation into what documents obtained by DW show to be a broader Turkish effort to collect information across Europe on supporters of the religious movement Ankara blames for last July’s failed coup attempt.
The raids targeted the homes of four Turkish imams affiliated with the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), Germany’s largest Islamic umbrella group with over 900 mosques tied to the Turkish government’s Directorate of Religion, or Diyanet.
The Federal Prosecutors Office (GBA) said in a statement no arrests were made in the raids in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and Rhineland-Pfalz, which aimed to collect evidence into imams conducting alleged espionage against supporters of the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blames for last July’s failed coup attempt.
The prosecutor’s office said the reason for the raids was related to a September order from Diyanet, a religious body tied to the Turkish prime ministry, for imams to pass information to diplomatic missions on Gulen supporters.
According to the documents obtained by DW, 13 imams and a “deputy coordinator” in the two states provided information to the Turkish religious attaché at the consulate in Cologne on at least 14 Gulen affiliated institutions and 45 people with alleged ties to the Gulen movement. NRW’s ministry of education has identified five people on the list as state-employed teachers.
A NRW interior ministry spokesman confirmed the documents from the Turkish consulate obtained by DW were the same as those in their possession. “It cannot be ruled out that further reports were drawn up from Germany and the neighboring countries,” he said.
In addition to naming people, the consular memos speak generally of those who “provide support or are sympathizers” of the Gulen movement, report on activity or name former institutions in their region.
German authorities have contacted those named on the lists and advised them against travel to Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has engaged in a massive post-coup purge.
Several of the imams have returned to Turkey, DW learned after making calls to some of the mosques, a factor likely to complicate the federal investigation.
Most of the Gulen-affiliated institutions are engaged in after-school tutoring for the socio-economically disadvantaged, inter-religious dialogue, cultural activities and projects to better integrate Turks in Germany. In NRW alone, the movement runs 63 associations and five private schools that get partial state support.
In the wake of the coup attempt, Turkey has called on all countries to clamp down on the Gulen movement, which it considers a terrorist organization. The issue has raised tensions between Turkey and some of its NATO allies, including Germany.
Both reports from Austria say Turkish state religious officials have taken active measures against the Gulenist activities and its attempts at “infiltration.” The Salzburg memo says ATIB and other religious officials “destroyed all books, audio materials, video CDs, poetry, brochures, newspapers and propaganda material” related to the Gulenists.
In Austria, religious official have “just like in the homeland assessed possible connections of the nefarious terror organization” and informed the Turkish government, the document reads.
Earlier this week, Austrian Greens Parliamentarian Peter Pilz announced he was in possession of religious attaché reports from Salzburg and Vienna. Pilz said he was working on publishing documents from 30 countries that revealed a “global spying network” at Turkish diplomatic missions.