Turkish police rounded up 32 suspected members of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), including safe house providers, in countrywide raids, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced Wednesday.
The operation codenamed “Clamp-4” was the latest blow for FETÖ, which Yerlikaya described as a group of “traitors who tried to deal a blow to our national will.”
The counterterrorism department of the Turkish National Police coordinated operations in 10 provinces, from Istanbul to Konya, Ankara to Antalya, as part of an investigation focusing on the so-called “gaybubet (absence) houses” of FETÖ. These are used as safe houses by wanted FETÖ members who often forge IDs and rarely step out to avoid capture. A former member who testified to prosecutors said that the group’s “absence” houses increased from 75 to 560 across Türkiye. Authorities believe that number might be even higher.
The operation captured two property owners overseeing the safe houses and four wanted FETÖ members in Istanbul.
Other suspects were found to have served in the terror group’s so-called “secret military formation” and made contact using payphones.
In Ankara and Bursa, police caught four suspects linked to FETÖ’s infiltration of the Gülhane Training and Research Hospital (GATA), formerly known as the Gülhane Military Medical Academy, Yerlikaya said.
In western Balıkesir province, five suspects serving various roles within the organization were found to have ordered an increase in Bank Asya accounts, a now-defunct lender that was the heart of FETÖ’s financial arm. Five of the suspects were fugitives wanted for “being a member of an armed terrorist organization.”
Police also seized $11,855, 1,600 euros ($1,740.14) and TL 177,815 ($5,900) in cash, gold worth TL 38,000, digital materials, organizational documents and guns during the raids.
Since December 2013, when the terrorist group emerged as the perpetrator of two coup attempts disguised as graft probes, FETÖ has been regarded as a security threat. Prosecutors say that the group’s infiltrators in law enforcement, the judiciary, bureaucracy and the military had waged a long-running campaign to topple the government. The group is also implicated in a string of cases related to its alleged plots to imprison its critics, money laundering, fraud and forgery.
FETÖ has been under more intense scrutiny since the July 15, 2016, coup attempt its infiltrators in the army carried out, which left 251 people dead and thousands more injured. Under a state of emergency following the attempt, tens of thousands of people were detained, arrested or dismissed from public sector jobs.
The terrorist group faces operations almost daily as investigators still try to uncover their massive network of infiltrators everywhere – from military and police to judiciary and bureaucracy. Just this week, Turkish police detained over 60 FETÖ suspects or fugitives in nationwide operations.
The Ministry of National Defense announced in 2022 that 24,387 Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) members were sacked since the coup attempt for possible ties to the group, while administrative inquiries are underway for over 700 others.
Meanwhile, an unknown number of FETÖ members, mostly high-ranking figures, fled Türkiye when the coup attempt was thwarted.
Many of the group’s members had already left the country before the coup attempt after Turkish prosecutors launched investigations into other crimes of the terrorist group.
For droves of FETÖ members, Greece was and remains the easiest destination to flee to as a gateway to Europe, where they are tolerated. FETÖ members usually spend a short time in Greece before moving to other European countries, with Germany being the most popular destination.
Most of them try to flee through the northwestern borders of Edirne province. Police intercepted 3,739 FETÖ fugitives who tried to escape to Greece via the land border since July 2016, official figures showed, including 739 FETÖ suspects caught on the border in 2023 alone.
These fugitives, featuring expelled soldiers, judges, prosecutors, police officers and academicians, often try to blend in with irregular migrants or collaborate with other terrorist groups like the MLKP and PKK.
The terrorist group is also known for its global network of schools and associations it founded while it disguised itself as an international nonprofit organization with religious undertones long before the coup attempt.
Despite Türkiye’s extradition requests and bilateral legal agreements, many FETÖ members still freely enjoy their lives in different countries around the world. In the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt, Türkiye has sped up extradition processes for members of FETÖ abroad.
The U.S., where FETÖ’s fugitive head, Fetullah Gülen, resides, is the subject of most extradition requests. Türkiye has sent several extradition requests for Gülen to Washington but, unfortunately, has seen little progress on this subject. Gülen, who arrived in the U.S. in 1999, currently lives in a luxurious retreat in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.
Ankara formally requested Gülen’s extradition on July 19, 2016, and has been pressing the U.S. ever since, sending hundreds of folders full of evidence implicating Gülen and FETÖ in the coup attempt.
The issue has been raised in bilateral meetings between Turkish and American officials in phone calls, letters and other exchanges.