US-based news magazine Foreign Policy claimed in a Monday report that the latest row between Turkey and the European Union over the cancellation of Turkish ministers’ referendum rallies in early March actually emerged after EU authorities found out that Turkish imams loyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had spied on followers of the Gülen movement, which is accused by Turkey of orchestrating a failed coup last summer.
According to the Foreign Policy report, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Austria discovered and accused imams working for the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB), which is linked to Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), of involvement in spying for the Turkish government on followers of the Gülen movement.
Providing details on how Erdoğan’s imams spied on Gülen followers, Foreign Policy claimed that imams have been spying for the Turkish government in 38 countries.
Underlining that DİTİB has been serving as “the long arm” of Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Europe, Foreign Policy said many imams working for DİTİB were dismissed over their links to the Gülen movement as part of a government crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt in Turkey in July.
According to Foreign Policy, DİTİB fired several “reform-minded imams” over their links with US-based Turkish scholar Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the Gülen movement, and imams loyal to Erdoğan were caught red-handed by German intelligence services submitting lists of suspected Gülen supporters to Turkish authorities last year.
The German authorities charged 16 clerics with illegal “secret service collaboration” and searched mosques and apartments, confiscating computers and reams of paperwork.
In February, German police teams raided the apartments of four DİTİB imams in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate who are suspected of acting as informants.
The Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (GBA) said in a statement that the imams had acted on an order issued on Sept. 20 of last year by the directorate to profile Gülen movement sympathizers.
Earlier, DİTİB officials admitted to profiling Gülen movement sympathizers based on instructions from Turkey’s top religious authority, the Directorate of Religious Affairs.
Last month the GBA launched an investigation into Turkish intelligence operations on German soil after a lawmaker filed a criminal complaint. Austria is also investigating whether Turkey has been operating an informer network targeting Gülen followers on its soil, via its embassy in Vienna.
The coordinator of DİTİB, Murat Kayman, announced his resignation on Feb. 23 on his blog as the spying imam issue has led to tensions between Turkey and Germany.