Turkish authorities have detained at least 10 foreign nationals suspected of ties to a US-based cleric whom Turkey accuses of masterminding the July 15 failed coup, a senior official said on Monday.
At least four of them had been formally arrested pending trial while a fifth person had been released, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.
One of the suspects was detained on Saturday after entering Turkey illegally from Syria, he said, adding that at least one wanted foreign national was on the run.
He did not provide details on their nationalities, but said the number of foreigners detained could increase as the investigation deepens.
The Turkish government launched a sweeping crackdown targeting followers of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of being behind the coup attempt by renegade soldiers within the military. Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, has denied involvement.
Nearly 18,000 people have been detained or arrested in the crackdown, mostly from the military. Tens of thousands of people have been suspended or dismissed from jobs in the judiciary, media, education, healthcare, military and local government.
On Sunday, Turkey held a mass rally in Istanbul to denounce the attempted coup, which two main opposition party leaders attended in a show of unity.
Kurtulmus, citing police figures, said as many as 5 million people had attended the rally, which he described as a strong expression by the Turkish people of their demand that Gulen be returned to Turkey to face trial. Turkey is also pressing for the extradition of other US-based Gulen supporters.
“I have no doubt that US officials will review their stance” on Gulen, Kurtulmus said. “Either they will continue to protect three or five bandits, or they will act in a way that will allow them to win the hearts of a nation of 79 million people.”
Kurtulmus said the government does not believe Gulen’s movement would be capable of staging another military coup, but did not rule out possible acts of sabotage by his followers, including cyberattacks.
Turkey is taking measures to counter any possible threat, he added.
“I can confidently say that there is no longer a threat of [another] coup,” Kurtulmus said. “But this organization will continue ... to take action to harm Turkey.”
He reiterated that 216 military personnel — including nine generals — suspected of taking part in the coup were at large. Of the fugitives, 180 of them were army personnel, while 30 were paramilitary police.
He would not confirm Turkish media reports claiming that some of the officers might have found refuge with Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, dismissing the reports as “speculation.”
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