December 24, 2016

Exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen denies links to Russian envoy's murder

In a video message, US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen repeatedly said that "like all acts of terror" he condemned the attack on the Russian envoy to Ankara, Andrei Karlov, adding that the ambassador was someone who held his movement in favorable regard. Gulen also said in his video that he fully expected "other assassinations" presumably taking place in the future to be blamed on him and his movement as well.

"I send my deepest condolences to Ambassador Karlov's family and to the Russian people for this tragic loss. I ask God the Most Compassionate to dry the roots of terrorism and lead the world to days of peace and tranquility," Gulen further stressed in a written statement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said earlier that Karlov's murderer, off-duty policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas, who was neutralized by Turkish security forces after the attack, was being investigated for having ties to Gulen's "Hizmet" (service) movement, which the Turkish government and media refer to as a terrorist network by the name of "FETÖ".

Erdogan alleges that Gulen was the mastermind behind the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, during which at least 270 people died. Erdogan further claims that Gulen's network of organizations and enterprises, which have been shut down in Turkey since the violent coup attempt, are all part of a long-standing "parallel state" structure allegedly designed to antagonize the country's democratically elected government led by Erdogan's Islamic "Justice and Development Party" (AKP).

Gulen: convenient scapegoat or terror mastermind?

Fethullah Gulen's statement on the Russian ambassador's assassination came as Turkish media circulated claims that "FETÖ" was planning another assault on the Turkish government on December 26. Turkey's interior ministry said it was presently investigating 10,000 people suspected of terror-related activity on social media. At least 1,600 people accused of "propaganda or apologizing for terrorism" or "insulting state officials" have been arrested in the past six months, according to the ministry; human rights organizations believe that number is much higher.

While also fighting insurgency by the so-called "Islamic State" group (IS) as well as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Turkish government's crackdown on dissidents has also severely impacted Gulen's followers. Gulen spokesman Y. Alp Aslandogan told DW that inside Turkey, Hizmet's activities were reduced to being non-existing following a massive government purge which resulted in all organizations affiliated with Gulen forcibly closing down under a state of emergency in effect since the failed coup.

"In Turkey, the institutional presence of the movement is completely finished. Erdogan shut down everything: hospitals, schools. They have fired everyone, even 7,000 doctors. But there are still hundreds of thousands of our participants inside Turkey. But right now, Hizmet only continues inside their homes," he told DW.

Aslandogan heads the "Alliance for Shared Values," (AFSV) a New York-based initiative that is part of Gulen's network of global non-profit registered organizations, which first shared Gulen's message denouncing the assassination.

"While the assertion is wrong and irresponsible, it is not unexpected since Mr Erdogan blames Mr Gulen for any and all harm that besets Turkey," an AFSV statement read after the Russian envoy's murder.

Gulen's followers have also suffered persecution outside of Turkey. Gulen sympathizers have reportedly received death threats in France, with a Gulen study center also suffering vandalism in a recent attack. Turkey has also made demands on the German government to extradite known Gulen supporters in Germany, which the German government has ignored.

Excerpted from the article published on Deutsche Welle, 24 December 2016, Saturday