Ankara suspects German intel using Gülen network

Ankara suspects German intel using Gülen network

In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine, Bruno Kahl, the chief of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, said on March 18 that the Turkish government had “failed to convince” them that the U.S.-based Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen was behind the coup attempt of July 15, 2016.

He said the BND did not think that the coup attempt was something staged by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government either, without elaborating who else might be behind it.

Kahl described the Gülen “movement” as a “civil association that aims to provide further religious and secular education” despite the Turkish government (and also the opposition) designation of it as a secret “terrorist” network aimed at overthrowing the government by use of military means.

In an interview with Kanal 7, Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık responded to those words on March 19, saying: “He [Kahl] must be both blind and deaf for not being able to see the [Gülenist] role. That brings questions to mind as to whether [the BND] was cooperating [with Gülenists] and whether they had a part in [the coup attempt].”

İbrahim Kalın, President Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesman, said in an interview with CNN Türk that Kahl’s statement showed that the German administration was “backing” the Fethullahists in the search for “instruments” it was “planning to use against” Turkey. “A lot of members of the Fethullahist Terror Organization [FETÖ] who are wanted in Turkey are now in Germany already,” he added.

The incident has added to a pile of problems between the two NATO allies, but relations go deeper than that, with around 3 million Turkish-origin people living in Germany.

Turkey on March 19 issued a strong note to the German Embassy in Ankara, protesting that German authorities permitted a number of associations to rally in Frankfurt on March 18 with flags and banners supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Erdoğan said on March 19 that it was a move in support of terrorism, especially after Germany refused to permit speeches by Turkish cabinet members in Germany in support of the “yes” campaign for the constitutional referendum on April 16 for a shift to an executive presidential system. 

A Turkish-origin German journalist working for Die Welt, Deniz Yücel, is under arrest in Istanbul on charges of working for the PKK in Turkey. Erdoğan again denounced him as a “terrorist agent” suspect yesterday. 

During a joint press conference with Erdoğan in Turkey on Feb. 2, German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly complained that the Turkish semi-official religious teaching network DİTİB in Germany was carrying out espionage activities among the Turkish community there. DİTİB is accused by German intelligence services of filing information against the Gülenist network among the Turkish communities in Germany and passing it on to Turkish security services.

There are 40 Turkish military officers, most of whom used to work as military attachés there or at NATO bases in Germany, who asked for asylum from Germany after refusing orders to return to Turkey following the coup attempt in 2016. Claiming they are part of the Gülenist secret network, courts have issued arrest warrants against them. Germany has not given them back to Turkey yet. Turkish security officials believe that a number of former (publicly known as Gülenists) prosecutors and judges who are now fugitives in Turkey, including those who wanted to interrogate Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan in 2012, are currently in Germany with the knowledge of German authorities.

Despite Turkish complaints, Germany thinks the mass arrests in Turkey in the wake of the coup attempt under the ongoing state of emergency was disproportionate and not in line with the rule of law.

On Feb. 13, German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported a story saying that Fidan was going to Germany “soon” to meet Kahl to discuss all security problems between the countries, as well as the PKK, DİTB and the Gülenist network. Turkish security sources have not confirmed whether Fidan and Kahl have yet had that meeting.

The tension between Germany and also other European Union members over the PKK and the Gülenist network is expected to be on the agenda of a Turkish cabinet meeting on March 20.

The head of the BND is working under the Federal Chancellery according to German legislation. It seems logical to expect that Kahl’s statement was approved by Merkel, who was in Washington, talking to U.S. President Donald Trump on the day of publication.

Kahl started the job on July 1, 2016, following a wiretapping scandal where the former head of the BND, Gerhard Schindler, was accused of cooperating with the American NSA; this was also a scandal referred to by Trump.

Security sources in Ankara suspect that the Kahl statement might be an alarming sign for Turkey that there might be other moves against Turkish interests not only in Turkey or in Germany but also in other countries where the Gülenist network is active. The suspicion goes as far as considering whether the BND has organic relations, gives protection and has even “adopted” or “annexed” the Gülenist network in the Balkans, Central Asia and Africa. Those sources believe a number of former Turkish military, police and intelligence officers and former members of the judiciary who are suspected of being members of the Gülenist network might be operating under the auspices of the German state in light of the BND statement.

A Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News on condition of anonymity that it was “irrational” for Berlin to confront its longtime ally, Turkey, in the current international atmosphere.

“NATO is under threat of financial pressure from the U.S. and the echoes of Brexit,” the official said.

“Germany and Turkey need each other as trusted military, economic and political partners to rely on. Not to fight against each other.”