Istanbul (AFP) – The Turkish spy agency has flown three suspected members of the movement blamed for the 2016 failed coup back to Turkey from the African state of Gabon in a covert operation, state media said Tuesday.
As part of a secret mission carried out by the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), the men were brought back to Turkey on a private plane from Libreville, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
The suspects are accused of belonging to the group of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who Ankara says orchestrated the bloody July 15 coup bid two years ago, aimed at unseating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ankara calls his group the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO) but Gulen insists he runs a purely peaceful movement and denies any link to the failed plot.
The latest MIT swoop comes on the heels of the controversial expulsion of six alleged Gulen group members from Kosovo in a similar operation.
Gulen’s group had built up huge influence in Turkey but also abroad — notably in Africa, the Balkans and Central Asia — in particular through an education network.
In the Gabon operation, one of the suspects was a school principal in Libreville and an education coordinator of Gulen schools operating across Kenya.
The second suspect was also a school principal, while the third was director general of Gulen schools in Gabon and steered the group’s money transfers from Europe to Africa, according to Anadolu.
The news agency reported some high-ranking Gulen movement members were detained on March 23 in a raid by the Gabon security forces.
But there was no immediate information on Libreville’s role in the operation.
Gabon is ruled by President Ali Bongo Ondimba, the son of Omar Bongo Ondimba who governed the oil-rich nation for more than 41 years until his death in 2009. Ali Bongo Ondimba held talks with Erdogan in Ankara in 2015.
In March, five teachers and a doctor, all Turkish nationals alleged to be Gulenists, were flown back to Turkey from Kosovo in a hugely contentious operation carried out by the Pristina interior ministry and MIT.
The operation sparked a crisis in Kosovo, with both the prime minister and president protesting that they were not informed.
The government said its intelligence agency had brought back from abroad a total of 80 suspected members of the Gulen movement, without elaborating further on the countries.
Erdogan has vowed to hunt down Gulenists inside and outside Turkey, saying on Monday: “We will never allow those vile people to walk freely.”