Turkish police forces have arrested dozens more people on suspicion of affiliation to a movement led by the US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Ankara government accuses of having masterminded the July 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 13 soldiers on-duty were arrested in the western province of Balikesir on charges of serving as the group’s “covert imams” – a term used to refer to the senior members of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO).
Three more soldiers were arrested in the central province of Tokat.
The sources added that the rest of the suspects were civilians.
Additionally, a court in the southeastern Sanliurfa province handed down prison sentences, ranging from 2.5 to 12 years, to three people for their membership in FETO.
During the botched putsch, a faction of the Turkish military declared that it had seized control of the country and the government of Erdogan was no more in charge. The attempt was, however, suppressed a few hours later.
Ankara has since accused Gulen of having orchestrated the coup. 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.
Additionally, the Ankara government has outlawed his movement, and has branded it as the Fethullah Terrorist Organization.
Gulen has denounced the “despicable putsch” and reiterated that he had no role in it.
“Accusations against me related to the coup attempt are baseless and politically-motivated slanders,” he said in a statement.
The 77-year-old cleric has also called on Ankara to end its “witch hunt” of his followers, a move he said is aimed at “weeding out anyone it deems disloyal to President Erdogan and his regime.”
Turkish officials have frequently called on their US counterparts to extradite Gulen, but their demands have not been taken heed of.
Turkey, which remains in 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.