Turkish Deputy PM Numan Kurtulmuş is seen in this photo from Feb 16. / AA Photo
No member of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) and the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB) is a spy and their duty is not to spy on people, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said on Feb. 18.
In his speech at the Economic Research Foundation's conference in Istanbul, Kurtulmuş said the duty of members of such bodies was to protect Turkish people from “pervert” and “wrong” practices of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and others.
"Searching the houses of these people who are doing religious services, which is also for the benefit of German
society, and taking steps against them by calling them 'criminals' will make Germany ashamed in the end," Kurtulmuş was quoted as saying by state-run Anadolu Agency on Feb. 18.
DİTİB clerics have been recently accused of spying on Turkish nationals in Germany with the aim of collecting news over people allegedly close to U.S.-based Islamic Fethullah Gülen, which the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016.
German police raided on Feb. 15 the apartments of four imams in Germany suspected of conducting espionage on behalf of the Turkish government against followers of Gülen.
Kurtulmuş’s remarks came one day after Diyanet head Mehmet Görmez said on Feb. 17 that accusations of espionage against Turkish imams in Germany stemmed from a “defamation campaign” that was tied to the political climate ahead of elections in the country.
Six imams were recalled to Turkey as an expression of goodwill in order not to harm bilateral ties, but police still raided the homes of the returning imams, Görmez said, claiming the move was aimed at “rekindling a political debate” ahead of elections.
Kurtulmuş said that Diyanet members and DİTİB’s religious staff were guarantors of Muslim minority's peaceful coexistence with German
society, adding the search operation against them was unfair.
"This will not contribute to the development of Turkish-German relations. This will not contribute to the elections in Germany, either,” said Kurtulmuş.
“They should not do wrong practices. This will only benefit fascists and neo-fascists. It will cause the extreme right movements to rise in Europe, mainly in Germany, Netherlands and France, and make Europe
an impossible place to live," he added.
The imams were members of DİTİB, Germany’s largest association of mosques, which brings imams from Turkey to serve the approximately 3 million people with a Turkish background who live here.