Germany raids apartments of Turkish imams suspected of spying

English edition of Asharq Al-Awsat - the world's premier pan-Arab daily.

Local German media said the four clerics targeted in the Wednesday raids belonged to a Turkish organization controlling mosques or religious communities in Germany.

German police on Wednesday raided the apartments of four imams suspected of conducting espionage on behalf of the Turkish government against followers of USA -based cleric Fetullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of organising a failed coup last July.

Prosecutors said police had confiscated written material and data storage devices during the raids in two western states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate on Wednesday.

Last week, when an official of Germany's domestic intelligence agency said that 13 imams affiliated with DITIB had sent the names of alleged supporters of Gulen to the Turkish government's Office for Religious Affairs, Diyanet, the union said it was not involved and that Diyanet supervised imams directly. Gulen has been accused by Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan of allegedly orchestrating the 15 July failed coup attempt. The organization, known as Ditib, is believed to have huge influence in Germany. An estimated 4 million Turks live in the country.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas has urged the organization to immediately move to clear up accusations against it.

"The suspects are suspected of having collected information about members of the so-called Gulen movement and passing it on to the general consulate in Cologne", the GBA said.

"Whoever uses Islam as a cover for espionage can not rely (for protection) on the freedom of religion", he said.

The raids come after the GBA launched an investigation into Turkish intelligence operations on German soil last month, after a lawmaker filed a criminal complaint.

"If the suspicion that some Ditib imams were spying is confirmed, the organisation must be seen, at least in parts, as a long arm of the Turkish government".

Germany's integration commissioner, Aydan Ozoguz, told Bild daily that with such events, Ankara was "deepening divisions" among Turks living in Germany. That order requested "detailed reports" on pro-Gulen organizations, including small community groups. Parliamentarian Peter Pilz said his team was working on documents to show the practice was even more widespread, spanning some 30 countries across Europe, Africa and Asia. Gulen denies any involvement in the coup attempt.

The government says the purges are necessary to clean the state of the "virus" of Gulen's movement, which encourages its members to work in public services.

  • Leroy Wright