Spying imams lead to tensions between Turkey and Germany

German authorities in the North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) region had announced that a group of mams (Muslim cleric) had been spying on five teachers and passing on names of alleged supporters of exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkish officials.

The Interior Ministry of Germany says it has found that 28 imams and 11 organisations of the German-based Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) has been involved in espionage.

The profiled teachers have filed complaints against the unidentified imams after DITIB admitted that their imams profiled people and that the information was then forwarded to Turkey. The German daily, Deutsche Welle reported on Tuesday that DITIB Secretary Bekir Alboğa denied spying allegations while admitting to sending e-mails to Turkish consulates and religious attaches to profile Gulen sympathisers in Germany.

As a result, the undersecretary of the German ministry of interior affairs, Ole Schröder, asked federal regions to determine whether the DITIB follows proper procedures in Germany, Deutsche Welle reported.

A spokesperson from the Interior Ministry of Germany who had spoken to Deutsche Welle said: “The probe launched by the security units against the DITIB imams regarding the allegations on the agenda is ongoing. There is an effort to determine whether the information [relayed to Turkey] has any consequences from the perspective of criminal law.”

The spokesperson, whose name was not revealed by Deutsche Welle, said the ministry expects the DITIB administration to assist in the investigation.

DITIB accepted in a report published in the Rheinische Post newspaper on 12 January this year that some of its preachers spied for Turkey at the government’s request.

DITIB, Germany’s largest Turkish Islamic group, had earlier denied allegations that Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs ordered DITIB to report on the activities of the Gulenist movement.

DITIB said “some imams fabricated information” on suspected Gulenist followers in Germany.

“We deeply regret this mishap and have spoken to the Directorate of Religious Affairs about this,” Alboğa told Rheinische Post, according to Deutsche Welle.

“DITIB should provide German authorities with the names of the imams who collected information or acted on the orders of the Turkish government”, Volker Beck, a lawmaker for the opposition Greens, told Deutsche Welle.

A document dated 20 September, 2016 said that the Diyanet asked Turkish missions and religious representatives abroad to profile Gulenist movement sympathising expatriates living in their respective countries.