From Cambodia to Ankara, new arrests in fight against FETÖ

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Turkey continued its struggle against FETÖ with new arrests announced on Friday as reports said Cambodian authorities detained a senior figure of the terrorist group.

Turkey’s pursuit of justice concerning members of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) continues with new arrests as the country seeks cooperation from foreign allies in the fight against the group that killed 251 people during the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.

Cambodian police have arrested the Turkish-Mexican former director of a school run by FETÖ, Reuters reported on Friday. Osman Karaca, former director of the Zaman International School linked to FETÖ, was arrested on Oct. 14 in the capital Phnom Penh, the news agency reported.

The Mexican Embassy in Vietnam —it does not have one in Cambodia — confirmed the arrest in a letter and asked Cambodia’s Interior Ministry to provide information and let him communicate with a consul. Karaca, who was born in Turkey and holds a Mexican passport, was the director of Zaman school until it was sold last year and has since been working as an educational consultant for the school, his wife told Reuters.

Turkish media outlets had reported that Karaca was one of the top figures, “a country representative” for FETÖ in Mexico after he was “assigned” by senior cadres of the terrorist group to that duty, following the 2016 coup attempt. The attempt was the most brutal bid by FETÖ to seize power and came three years after it first attempted to topple the government under the guise of an anti-graft probe by its infiltrators in the judiciary and law enforcement. Soldiers loyal to the terrorist group indiscriminately killed civilians, soldiers and police officers opposing them hours before a strong public resistance stopped the coup attempt. Since then, tens of thousands of people were arrested or detained and security forces carry out operations almost on a daily basis to capture FETÖ suspects.

Turkey, which signed a security cooperation agreement with Cambodia earlier this year, seeks cooperation from the Asian country in its international fight against the terrorist group. Last year, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said they asked for the extradition of three high-profile members of FETÖ from Cambodia but he did not disclose their names. Turkey had earlier issued extradition requests to Cambodia for Mehmet Hanefi Sözen, a prominent member of the terrorist group. Sözen, who was the head of a now-defunct association linked to FETÖ, is the chief suspect in a massive exam cheating scandal by FETÖ. He is accused of supplying questions and answers to Gülenists for the Public Personnel Selection Exam (KPSS) in 2010. FETÖ is accused of planting its infiltrators into Turkish institutions through this exam that chooses would-be civil servants. The terrorist group is known for its widespread clout in all sectors, from law enforcement and military to bureaucracy and judiciary.

FETÖ runs a global network of schools and companies spanning from the U.S. to Asia. High-ranking members of the terrorist group, including its leader Fetullah Gülen, are already abroad while those in the lower ranks fled the country after it failed in the brutal putsch bid. The Interpol liaison office of the Turkish police is spearheading the efforts to bring back FETÖ members from abroad. The cross-border fight against FETÖ involves efforts by the Foreign and Justice Ministry, the police and intelligence services. The ministries are pursuing intense diplomatic efforts and presenting evidence of the terrorist group’s involvement in the coup attempt.

Ankara vowed to bring all FETÖ suspects to justice in the aftermath of the coup attempt that laid bare just how desperate the terrorist the group was to seize power in the face of operations against it. FETÖ suspects have since been captured and brought back home from Ukraine, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Gabon, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Through a focused inquiry in cooperation with intelligence services, the Foreign Ministry found 4,600 suspected members of the group in 110 countries and so far, more than 80 FETÖ-linked suspects from 18 countries have been brought back in a global manhunt. Turkey complains of a lack of support from its allies, particularly the U.S., in the fight against FETÖ. Many countries avoid describing FETÖ as a terrorist group, while the U.S. has yet to respond to Turkey’s repeated requests to extradite Fetullah Gülen.

Gülen, the leader of FETÖ, resides in Pennsylvania in a luxurious retreat, while other prominent FETÖ fugitives including former footballer Hakan Şükür and journalist Ekrem Dumanlı are known to live in the U.S. as well after they fled Turkey in the face of arrest warrants.

On Friday, prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 20 suspects in the capital Ankara in an operation against FETÖ. Eight suspects were captured so far. Suspects are accused of using ByLock, an encrypted messaging app developed and exclusively used by the terrorist group to relay messages of Gülen and other top members to followers. FETÖ, known for its secretive methods of communication, utilized everything from in-game chats in mobile games to payphones to convey messages between its members. ByLock is the most well-known app used by FETÖ members, and its use was discovered before the 2016 coup attempt. Authorities deciphered ByLock messages, revealing secret messages pointing to an imminent coup in operations after the putsch bid. The Interior Ministry announced that 4,676 new ByLock users were detected through an investigation that had already identified more than 95,000 users. More than 79,337 people faced legal charges in ByLock investigations.

In Istanbul, prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 41 policewomen, including 33 on active duty, in an investigation into a secret FETÖ network in law enforcement. Police carried out operations in 23 cities to capture the suspects and 32 were arrested so far.

Elsewhere, prosecutors asked for 27 years in prison for six defendants in a case involving the controversial release of Adil Öksüz, a top FETÖ figure who masterminded the 2016 coup attempt. Defendants are accused of aiding the terrorist group, favoring a criminal, abuse of duty and destroying criminal evidence.

Öksüz is known as FETÖ’s “black box” for his intricate ties to senior cadres and prominent role in the coup attempt. He acted as the Air Force leader for the terrorist group. FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen and Öksüz are being tried in absentia in several coup cases. Both men face multiple life sentences for their suspected role in the coup attempt. Hakan Bıyık, a colonel who confessed his ties to the terrorist group, had revealed Öksüz’s role in the coup attempt in his testimony and detailed how Öksüz and military officers in the “Peace At Home Council” plotted the insurrection bid in a villa in Ankara. Adil Öksüz told interrogators that he was near Akıncı base to “check out a piece of land he was planning to purchase,” just like Kemal Batmaz, his alleged co-conspirator in the putsch attempt, when he was captured.

Batmaz, currently in jail on coup charges, was a former executive of a FETÖ-run company and was among other “civilian” FETÖ members captured at or near the airbase. Akıncı was the command center of the putsch attempt. Fighter jets taking off from the base struck several strategic locations in Ankara while top military brass who opposed the coup were held at the base by putschists. Öksüz was last seen in his hometown Sakarya in northwestern Turkey before his disappearance. He is believed to be in Germany and Turkey sought information from Berlin about his whereabouts although Germany remains quiet on the issue.

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