ISTANBUL/PRISTINA (Reuters) - Six Turkish nationals arrested in Kosovo over links to schools financed by the Fethullah Gulen movement that Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup have been extradited to Turkey, Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu said on Thursday.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said he was not informed about the operation to deport the six, which he said was carried out by the secret service agency and police. Local media have dubbed the move a “kidnapping.”
The Kosovo Interior Ministry said the residence permits of the six had been revoked after their arrest for “security reasons,” but it did not elaborate.
Anadolu said the six were now in Turkish custody. It identified them as Cihan Ozkan, Kahraman Demirez, Hasan Huseyin Gunakan, Mustafa Erdem, Osman Karakaya and Yusuf Karabina, and it said all were “senior members” of Gulen’s network.
It said the six were responsible for recruitment in Gulen’s network and helping those in Turkey leave the country amid a security crackdown in which tens of thousands of people have been sacked or jailed over alleged Gulen links.
Ankara accuses Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric, of orchestrating the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, and has declared his movement a terrorist organization. He denies any connection with the abortive putsch.
At its peak, the Gulen movement operated schools in 160 countries, from Afghanistan to the United States. Since the coup attempt, Turkey has pressured allies to shut down Gulen-run establishments.
“We have been facing enormous pressure from the Turkish authorities in the past weeks to take actions against Gulen schools and their staff,” a Kosovo government senior official told Reuters in condition of anonymity.
Authorities in Kosovo, whose population is mainly Muslim, said earlier there were no plans to shut down Gulen schools.
Haradinaj said he would respond to the incident appropriately.
“Some of the elements of this operation are not clear including the urgency of the deportation,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I will act in accordance with the constitutional responsibilities.”
It remains unclear why Pristina decided to fly the six back to Turkey.
Turkey is a major supporter of impoverished Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and Turkish firms run the tiny Balkan country’s sole airport and electricity network, and are building two highways worth around $2 billion.
In Sarajevo, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said after a meeting with his Bosnian counterpart that more action should be taken against Gulen’s followers there, “especially in the sectors of education and business, and (we) want (Bosnia’s) continuous support for the solution of this problem”.
Bosnian Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic said his country would continue to cooperate with Turkey to prevent “any activity that may endanger Bosnia’s stability or its relations with Turkey”.
Bosnia has taken no concrete steps against the schools believed to be financed by the Gulen network, but some Turkish teachers have left the country under political pressure since the coup attempt.
Additional reporting by Dominic Evans and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Hugh Lawson