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Turkey says 80 suspects from 18 countries snatched over 2016 failed coup

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag

Turkish intelligence agents have so far snatched 80 citizens from 18 countries as part of an extensive operation against suspected members of the outlawed Fethullah Gulen movement, which is blamed by Ankara of having orchestrated a coup attempt in the Anatolian country two years ago.

In mid-July 2016, a faction of the Turkish military declared that it had seized control of the country and the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was no more in charge. The attempt was, however, suppressed a few hours later.

Ankara has since accused US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, 76, of having orchestrated the botched putsch. The opposition figure is also accused of being behind a long-running campaign to topple the government via infiltrating the country’s institutions, particularly the army, police and the judiciary.

The Turkish government has vowed to wipe out the purported influence of the movement not just in Turkey but also in foreign countries where it has allegedly established substantial influence, especially in education.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the US since 1999, has strongly rejected any involvement in the coup attempt against Erdogan. However, Ankara has labeled his transnational religious and social movement as the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, also the government spokesman, announced the news of the arrests in a television interview on Thursday, saying, “The MIT (Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization) has so far taken 80 FETO members from 18 countries and brought them back to Turkey.”

“MIT has dealt a big blow to FETO through operations carried out abroad,” said Bozdag, but he did not say when or from which countries the citizens had been taken.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported last Thursday that six Turkish nationals, suspected to have links to “FETO,” had been extradited to the country from Kosovo.

“The operation in Kosovo is a big accomplishment,” Bozdag said elsewhere in his remarks.

The Anadolu report said at the time that the operation had been conducted in a joint operation by the MIT and Kosovo’s intelligence services, and in a statement, Kosovo’s Interior Ministry said the residence permits of the detainees had been revoked, without providing any reasons.

However, Kosovo's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj later sacked his top security chiefs over their involvement in the operation, drawing an angry rebuke from Erdogan.

“Hey Kosovo prime minister, who told you to do this? Since when did you start to protect those who tried to launch a coup in … Turkey?” Bozdag added in the interview.

The Turkish government has so far submitted a total of at least seven requests to US officials concerning the extradition of Gulen, but Washington has refused to extradite the cleric, arguing that it has not yet received sufficient evidence, required by US courts, to hand over the cleric.

Gulen has already called on Ankara to end its “witch hunt” of his followers, a move he says is aimed at “weeding out anyone it deems disloyal to President Erdogan and his regime.”

Turkey, under a state of emergency since the coup, has been engaged in suppressing the media and opposition groups suspected to have played a role in the failed coup.

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of having links to Gulen and the failed coup. More than 110,000 others, including military staff, civil servants and journalists have been sacked or suspended from work over the same accusations.

The international community and rights groups have been highly critical of the Turkish president over the massive dismissals and the crackdown.

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