ANKARA – Turkey has issued detention warrants for 3,224 people over suspected links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, news channels NTV and CNN Turk reported on Wednesday, in one of the largest operations in months against the network which Turkey blames for a failed July coup.
More than 1000 of those who had secretly infiltrated police forces across the country have already been detained, NTV said.
Another 2,200 were being sought as authorities targeted what they said was a secret structure within Turkey’s police force.
Turkey says a movement loyal to US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen organised the July 2016 plot to bring down President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the overnight crackdown targeted a Gulen network “that infiltrated our police force, called ‘secret imams'”.
“One thousand and nine secret imams have been detained so far in 72 provinces, and the operation is ongoing,” he told reporters in Ankara.
The latest detentions came 10 days after voters narrowly backed plans to expand Erdogan’s already wide powers in a referendum which opposition parties and European election observers said was marred by irregularities.
The referendum bitterly divided Turkey. Erdogan’s critics fear further drift into authoritarianism, with a leader they see as bent on eroding modern Turkey’s democracy and secular foundations.
Erdogan argues that strengthening the presidency will avert instability associated with coalition governments, at a time when Turkey faces multiple challenges, including security threats from extremists and Kurdish militants.
“In Turkey, there was an attempted coup with a goal of toppling the government and destroying the state,” he said in a recent interview.
“We are trying to cleanse members of FETO inside the armed forces, inside the judiciary and inside the police,” he said, using an acronym for the label, Gulenist Terrorist Organisation, which the government has given to Gulen’s supporters.
Erdogan compared the struggle against Gulen with the state’s battle against Daesh and Kurdish PKK militants, who are designated terrorist organisations by Turkey, the European Union, and the United States.
“We are going to keep up the fight in terms of democracy, fundamental rights and liberties, but at the same time we are going to keep up the fight against PKK, FETO, and other terrorist organisations such as Daesh,” he said. “We will continue down this path in a very committed fashion.”
In the aftermath of the failed July coup, authorities arrested 40,000 people and sacked or suspended 120,000 from a wide range of professions including soldiers, police, teachers, and public servants, over alleged links with terrorist groups.