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article imageTurkey flies 3 suspected Gulenists from Gabon in covert swoop

By Fulya OZERKAN with Caroline CHAUVET in Libreville (AFP)     Apr 10, 2018 in World

The Turkish spy agency has flown three suspected members of the movement blamed for the 2016 failed coup back to Turkey from the African state of Gabon in a covert operation, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday.

As part of a secret mission carried out by the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), the men were brought back to Turkey on a private plane from Libreville, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The suspects are accused of belonging to the group of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who Ankara accuses of orchestrating the bloody July 15 coup bid two years ago, aimed at unseating Erdogan.

Ankara calls his group the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO) but Gulen insists he runs a purely peaceful movement and denies any link to the failed plot.

"Thanks to God, Gabon delivered three senior FETO members to our country," Erdogan said in a televised speech in Ankara to lawmakers from his ruling party.

The latest MIT swoop comes on the heels of the controversial expulsion of six alleged Gulen group members from Kosovo in a similar operation.

Hinting at further operations, Erdogan added: "We got six from Kosovo, three from Gabon. Our MIT is chasing them. Let's see where the new ones will come from."

- Held incommunicado -

Gulen's group had built up huge influence in Turkey but also abroad -- notably in Africa, the Balkans and Central Asia -- in particular through an education network.

In the Gabon operation, one of the suspects is accused of being the education coordinator of Gulen schools operating across Kenya and another of being director general of Gulen schools in Gabon, according to Anadolu.

Anadolu said some high-ranking Gulen movement members were detained on March 23 in a raid by the Gabon security forces.

But a lawyer for the men told AFP in Libreville they had been arrested on March 15 and held for almost a month without their legal team being allowed access to case documents.

"They were subjected to an inhuman and degrading treatment," claimed the lawyer who asked not to be named.

The lawyer said that the suspects' close families were extradited to Turkey too -- a total of 13 people. The family members were allowed to go free in Istanbul.

The lawyer added that they worked at a Libreville international school called Ecole Internationale La Lumiere.

- 'Won't walk freely' -

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) met his Gabonese counterpart Ali Bongo Ondimba (R) in 201...
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) met his Gabonese counterpart Ali Bongo Ondimba (R) in 2015

Gabon is ruled by President Ali Bongo Ondimba, the son of Omar Bongo Ondimba who governed the oil-rich nation for more than 41 years until his death in 2009. Ali Bongo Ondimba held talks with Erdogan in Ankara in 2015.

A second lawyer for the men claimed the Gabonese authorities were "unfortunately subjected to the will of the Turkish authorities which clearly did not disturb them much."

In March, five teachers and a doctor, all Turkish nationals alleged to be Gulenists, were flown back to Turkey from Kosovo in a hugely contentious operation carried out by the Pristina interior ministry and MIT.

The operation sparked a crisis in Kosovo, with both the prime minister and president protesting that they were not informed of the operation.

The government said its intelligence agency had brought back from abroad a total of 80 suspected members of the Gulen movement, without elaborating further on the countries.

Over 50,000 people have been given jail sentences or are in prison awaiting the outcome of trials in the crackdown that followed the coup bid which has raised tensions with the West.

Erdogan has vowed to hunt down Gulenists inside and outside Turkey, saying on Monday: "We will never allow those vile people to walk freely."

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