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Türkei Erdogan Unterstützer
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Messinis

Are Turkish spies and informants in Germany?

October 23, 2017

A court has again refused to grant arrest warrants for imams accused of spying for Turkey's government in Germany. The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, a state organization, regularly sends clerics abroad.


The Federal Court of Justice has once again denied arrest warrants to prosecutors who say Turkish spies are operating in Germany's mosques. Prosecutors accuse imams employed by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), a government agency that sends clerics around the world and that has been strengthened under the increasingly authoritarian government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of doing double duty.

According to a report in Monday's Süddeutsche Zeitung, earlier this year Germany's federal state prosecutor filed warrants for six imams and Halife Keskin, a high-ranking official of Diyanet, the Ankara-based Directorate of Religious Affairs, which oversees DITIB.

The federal court denied the applications at the end of September, the newspaper reported, on the grounds that new investigations failed to show that the suspects had gone beyond their normal duties in reporting back to Diyanet.

Nor did Keskin's instructions to the imams amount to commissioning espionage, the court found. The decision became the prosecutors' second failure to secure arrest warrants for DITIB imams in 2017.

Fethullah Gulen
Gulen has been living in the US since 1999Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Smith

The Gulen movement

The new allegations stem from a September 2016 Diyanet directive that obligated Turkish government officials working abroad to report back if they suspected someone of belonging to a terrorist organization.

The federal prosecutor has alleged that the seven suspects were commissioned by Diyanet to find information about supporters of the preacher Fethullah Gulen in Germany.

The Gulen movement had been an ally to and tactical partner of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) from 2002 until a power struggle in 2013 led to the group's vilification by the government, which Erdogan led as the prime minister at the time. The governmnet classified the Gulen movement as a terrorist organization in 2015, and later blamed it for the unsuccessful military coup in summer 2016. Gulen, now 76, has been out of the government's reach in the United States since 1999.

Suspicious of clerics

DITIB operates or funds about 900 mosques in Germany. The organization claims to have stationed around 970 Turkish imams in the country. They generally stay for five years. With diplomatic tensions between the countries worsening steadily since last summer's coup, these clerics have been scrutinized more intensely. In February, for example, German police raided several apartments rented to DITIB clerics.

Diyanet has recalled three imams to Turkey on the grounds that they overstepped their briefs. In January, DITIB officials admitted that some imams had informed on Gulen's supporters in Germany. Two DITIB imams have claimed political asylum in Germany, fearing persecution at home.

Meanwhile, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia's intelligence agency has reported that at least 13 imams have sent information on 33 people and a handful of institutions based in Germany back to Turkey.

Turkey's spying has reached into other areas of civil society, with organizations that Kurdish organizations (including groups that Erdogan has branded as threats to his state) warning that informants have infiltrated German immigration offices as translators and interviewers for new asylum applicants, schools and even the police force. The Turkish diaspora community in Germany numbers about 3 million people, about half of whom have Turkish citizenship.

Earlier in October, it emerged that Germany, as a result of the ongoing suspicions, was drastically reducing federal funding for programs run by DITIB-affiliated mosques — in 2016, this funding amounted to nearly €3.3 million, mostly for helping refugees.

Ankara demands extradition of Turkish-German writer

Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight
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