World News

Germany drops inquiry against Turkish imams suspected of spying on Erdogan's behalf

BERLIN (Reuters) - An investigation against imams suspected of spying in Germany on behalf of the Turkish government has been closed without any charges brought, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.

A dozen Turkish imams had been placed under investigation on suspicion that they were spying on followers of U.S.-based cleric Fetullah Gulen at the request of the Ankara government, which accuses him of masterminding a military coup attempt last year. Gulen denies any involvement.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has called for the United States to extradite Gulen over the abortive July 2016 coup, in which at least 240 people were killed.

German prosecutors dropped the investigation because some of the suspects had left Germany for unknown destinations or because it could not find sufficient evidence that the imams had agreed to requests by the Turkey-based Diyanet religious authority to spy on Gulen supporters, the federal prosecutors’ office said in a statement.

In some of the cases, the information the suspects had provided to Turkish authorities was “very general” and without detailed findings on specific people.

“In addition, it speaks in their favour that it can be assumed they would have had to fear significant repression by government authorities in Turkey if they had refused to comply with Diyanet’s requests,” the GBA statement said.

It said a separate investigation into suspected Turkish intelligence operations on German soil continues and that Ankara was still suspected of spying on Gulen supporters in Germany.

Since July 2016, Turkey has arrested tens of thousands of people over alleged ties to Gulen in a wide-ranging crackdown criticised by Germany and other European Union nations on human rights grounds.

The roughly three million people of Turkish heritage who live in Germany, the world’s largest Turkish diaspora, are divided in their attitudes towards Erdogan.

A survey by broadcaster NDR showed on Tuesday that 44 percent of Turks in Germany see German criticism of Erdogan as unjustified and 29 percent agree with Erdogan’s politics since the coup attempt, compared to 27 percent who disagree.

Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; editing by Mark Heinrich