The Austrian interior ministry has confirmed that three Austrian Turks were detained in June on suspicion of spying on dissidents for Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and were released pending trial after questioning, the Austrian news website Kurier reported on Thursday.
The suspects reportedly provided information to Ankara on followers of Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.
According to Kurier’s report Austrian police on June 20 raided two houses and detained three people who reportedly gave information about 800 members of the Gülen movement to Turkish intelligence service MİT.
On Thursday Interior Minister Gerhard Karner confirmed that charges had been filed against three Austrian nationals of Turkish origin on suspicion of espionage, Kurier said.
According to Kurier, during searches of the suspects’s houses, numerous data carriers, cell phones and blank-firing guns were seized. The suspects were released after questioning.
The Innsbruck public prosecutor’s office requested pretrial detention for the suspects; however, the court rejected the request. The prosecutor’s office appealed the decision, which is still pending review.
The Austrian interior ministry views the case as a typical one of “foreign powers spying on opposition members and government opponents living abroad,” Kurier reported.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.
Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt in 2016. In order to avoid the government-led crackdown, thousands of Gülen followers have fled Turkey and taken refuge in European and other countries.
For years, Turkey has repeatedly urged the European governments to take action against Gülen supporters who sought asylum in the