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German prosecutors drop probe into Turkish imam spies

December 6, 2017

The allegations that Turkish imams spied on opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Germany caused an uproar. Prosecutors in Karlsruhe have dropped the investigation.

DITIB Zentralmoschee Köln-Ehrenfeld
Image: DW/M. Odabasi

An investigation against clerics suspected of spying on opponents of the Turkish government has been closed, the German Federal Prosecutors Office in Karlsruhe said Wednesday.

The investigation was primarily against 19 imams affiliated with the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), Germany's largest Islamic umbrella group.

They had been under investigation for allegedly spying on followers of US-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the July 2016 failed coup attempt.

The prosecutor's office said that seven suspects had fled Germany and therefore could not be charged. In another seven cases there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

In five cases, there were minor infractions not worth prosecuting. In particular, prosecutors said that the five imams passed on general information and nothing about specific individuals. 

"In addition, those defendants believed that they had to fear significant repression by government agencies in Turkey if they had refused to implement the mission of Diyanet," prosecutors said.

Read more: Court says prosecutors can't prove Turkey spies via DITIB

Turkish imam spy affair extends across Europe

The 19 clerics were under investigation for handing over information on suspected members of the Gulen movement to the Turkish consulate in Cologne.

A September 2016 order from Diyanet, a religious body linked to the Turkish prime minister's office, had requested the imams pass information to diplomatic missions on Gulen supporters. DITIB runs or funds more than 900 mosques in Germany tied Diyanet.

Imams in Cologne
Image: picture alliance/dpa/O. Berg

Difficult relations

The allegations of spying through mosques had caused an uproar in Germany at a time when relations with Erdogan and his government have gone into a tailspin.

Earlier this year, DITIB admitted "a few" of its preachers "wrongly" acted as informants for the Turkish government but has sought to distance itself from the spying allegations.

The Islamic association said it did not order imams, who are paid and sent from Turkey by Diyanet, to spy on Gulen followers. DITIB says it only provides religious and cultural services and does not conduct political activities.

Wednesday's announcement is separate from other investigations of alleged Turkish intelligence operatives spying on opponents, mostly Kurdish activists and Gulen followers, in Germany.

The German government has warned of Ankara seeking to influence some 3 million people of Turkish origin in Germany through propaganda, media and other institutions, such as DITIB and the pro-Erdogan Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD).

cw/jm (AFP, dpa, epd, Reuters)