German police raid homes of Turkish imams accused of spying

German police on Wednesday raided the homes of four Turkish imams (preachers) on suspicion of reporting to Ankara followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of masterminding the coup attempt in Turkey last July.

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office (GBA) said in a statement that the imams were suspected of having collected information “about members of the so-called Gulen movement and passed it on to the general consulate in Cologne.”

According to German officials, Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) issued an order on 20 September 2017 to imams working in Germany to collect information on Gulen sympathisers.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the four imams were members of Ditib, Germany’s largest association of mosques, which brings clerics from Turkey to serve around three million people of Turkish background living in Germany.

Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Mass, commenting on the raids said the imams were members of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (Ditib), the country’s largest association of mosques and were under the influence of the Turkish state.

In a statement reported by Reuters, Maas said Ditib needed to “completely disengage itself from Ankara.”

“Whoever uses Islam as a cover for espionage cannot rely [for protection] on the freedom of religion,” he added. “If the suspicion that some Ditib imams were spying is confirmed, the organisation must be seen, at least in part, as a long arm of the Turkish government.”

Although the secretary general of Ditib, Bekir Alboga, initially admitted that some imams had spied for Diyanet, the organisation last week denied that 12 imams had sent the names of alleged Gulen sympathisers to Diyanet.

Relations between Germany and Turkey have been frayed since last year with the two countries clashing over the German Federal Parliament’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the refugee crisis and what Turkey says is Germany’s “harbouring of terrorists.”

Thousands of Turkish nationals have applied for asylum in Germany, including soldiers following the coup attempt.

Turkey has also come under criticism for its employment of intelligence agents. According to German daily Die Welt some 800 regular agents are employed in Europe as well as 6,000 informants in Germany who are “menacing” and putting pressure on “German Turks.”