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Germany accuses Turkey of spying, as Berlin backs PKK

A Turkish military helicopter takes off during an operation against the PKK in Turkey on December 30 2016 ( Özkan Bilgin - Anadolu Agency )
A Turkish military helicopter takes off during an operation against the PKK in Turkey on December 30 2016 ( Özkan Bilgin - Anadolu Agency )

Germany will not tolerate Turkish intelligence operations within its borders, the head of the country’s domestic spy agency said yesterday after its chief prosecutor launched an investigation into possible spying by Turkish clerics.

Hans-Georg Maassen said Berlin was very concerned about recent developments in Turkey, as well as “influence operations” directed against the Turkish minority in Germany or Germans with a Turkish migration background.

“We cannot accept that intelligence agencies are operating in Germany against German interests, and that is why we protest,” Maassen told reporters in Berlin.

The investigation, begun this week, followed a criminal complaint filed in early December by Volker Beck, a German lawmaker and religious spokesman for the Green party.

The issue threatens to further strain ties between NATO partners Germany and Turkey.

Ankara has accused Berlin of harbouring separatist militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and extremist militant leftists of the DHKP-C, which has carried out attacks in Turkey. German officials reject that claim, despite the PKK holding open rallies in Germany last year, with one of its leaders even giving a speech.

In June, the German parliament voted in June to declare the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a “genocide”, and Berlin has criticised a security clampdown by Turkish authorities since a failed coup in mid-July, despite claiming to support Turkish democracy.

Had the military coup – blamed on the Fethullah Gulen movement – succeeded, Turkish democracy would have been catastrophically compromised.

Beck said he filed his complaint after reports that Ankara had asked Muslim imams sent from Turkey to work for Ditib, Germany’s largest association of mosques, to provide information about followers of US-based cleric Gulen.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Gulen of masterminding the unsuccessful putsch, charges Gulen denies. Erdogan has also been highly critical of Turkey’s Western allies, who he accuses of being too slow to denounce the coup attempt and only did so when it became clear that it had failed.

The Green lawmaker criticised the prosecutor’s office for waiting so long to launch an investigation, and said it was unclear if possible suspects had left the country.

A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said the probe was directed against unknown perpetrators because there was not yet sufficient evidence to target specific individuals.

German police last month arrested a 31-year-old Turkish man suspected of providing information on Kurds living in Germany to Turkish intelligence agencies.

Bekir Alboga, general secretary of Ditib, was quoted in the Rheinische Post newspaper last week as saying that some Ditib imams had mistakenly provided information about Gulen followers to the Turkish religious affairs directorate, known as the Diyanet in Turkey.

But in a statement on Ditib’s website dated 12 January, Alboga said he had not confirmed reports of spying. He said initial instructions to clerics from the Diyanet were confusing, but the agency had clarified last month that imams were only expected to carry out religious duties.

“We are taking the charges seriously and investigating them ourselves,” Alboga said.

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