April 10, 2018 / 10:05 AM / in 2 months

Gabon returns three suspects to Turkey over Gulen links, Erdogan says

(This version of the April 10 story has been corrected to show in eighth paragraph that suspects have been brought back from 18 countries)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey April 9, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

ANKARA (Reuters) - Three Turkish nationals detained in Gabon over links to the Fethullah Gulen movement that Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup have been brought to Turkey, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Speaking to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party, Erdogan vowed to continue to seek supporters of the U.S.-based cleric “no matter where they run.”

“Gabon has returned three important Gulenists to our country. No matter where they run or how much they run, we will go after them,” he said.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, citing security sources, said the three suspects had been captured in an operation carried out by Turkish intelligence. It said the three were brought back to Turkey and handed over to authorities for questioning.

The suspects, identified as Osman Ozpinar, Ibrahim Akbas and Adnan Demironal, were involved in the administration of schools run by Gulen’s network, Anadolu said, adding that they were also users of ByLock, an encrypted messaging app the government says is used by the cleric’s supporters.

It said the three were detained by authorities in Gabon on March 23 and also faced charges of membership in an armed terrorist organisation.

Ankara blames Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, for orchestrating a failed coup in 2016 and has carried out a widespread crackdown on alleged supporters of the cleric’s network. Gulen denies any involvement.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, the government’s spokesman, said last week 80 people suspected of links to Gulen’s network had been brought back to Turkey from 18 different countries.

Last month, Kosovo authorities arrested six Turkish nationals linked to schools financed by Gulen’s movement and extradited them to Turkey, prompting Kosovo’s prime minister to dismiss his interior minister and secret service chief. Kosovo’s parliament also voted to investigate the arrests.

“We’ve gotten six Gulenists from Kosovo and three from Gabon. Let’s see where the next ones come from,” Erdogan said.

Since the abortive putsch in July 2016, nearly 160,000 people have been detained and a similar number of civil servants sacked from their jobs, a United Nations report found last month. Ankara says the measures are necessary given the extent of the security threats it faces, including from Gulen’s network, which it considers a terrorist group.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Tulay Karadeniz; Editing by David Dolan

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