The Turkish government plans to continue “operations,” including in the United States, against supporters of a political opponent of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a top adviser to the Turkish president said Friday.
Speaking to reporters ahead of Erdogan’s trip this week to the U.N. General Assembly, Ibrahim Kalin said that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, MIT, would continue targeting supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen across the globe.
“Our relevant units and institutions will continue their operations in the countries the FETO operates in whether it be the U.S. or some other country,” said Kalin, using an acronym for the pejorative term Fethullah Terrorist Organization to describe Gulen’s network of followers.
“Rest assured that they will feel Turkey breathing down their neck,” Kalin added.
Erdogan and the Turkish government have waged a widespread crackdown against Gulen’s network, which is said to number in the millions. Erdogan blames Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, for the failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt that left more than 250 people dead. Gulen has denied taking part in the coup.
The Turkish government’s targeting of Gulen and his supporters has run the gamut. MIT officials kidnapped six Turkish nationals in March in Kosovo and returned them back to Turkey to face trial. The kidnapping caused a major international uproar and showed the lengths that Erdogan would go to hunt down Gulen supporters.
“Operations similar to the one conducted in Kosovo can be carried out in other countries. All should know that Turkey will not allow the FETO to breathe a sigh of relief,” Kalin said Friday, adding that Erdogan “has given very clear instructions on this issue.”
Operations in the U.S. have yet to go as far as the Kosovo incident.
Instead, the Turkish government has hired several lobbying firms and lawyers to debilitate a network of charter schools operated by Gulen’s followers. The lobbyists have also pressed officials in both the Obama and Trump administrations to extradite Gulen, who has lived in the U.S. since 1999.
Perhaps the most high-profile lobbyist for Turkey was Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Donald Trump. A Turkish businessman linked to the government hired Flynn to investigate Gulen during the 2016 campaign. Flynn and the businessman, Ekim Alptekin, discussed kidnapping Gulen and returning him to Turkey, according to reports.
Flynn was investigated by the Department of Justice and special counsel Robert Mueller over his Turkish lobbying. He has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador during the presidential transition period.
Turkish media companies have also targeted Gulen supporters living in the U.S.
As The Daily Caller reported in 2017, at least six academics and journalists living in exile in the states were tracked and photographed by Turkish news outlets. The media companies, which are increasingly under Erdogan’s control, published photos and videos of the exiles while shopping, running errands and, in one case, picking up their kids from a swimming pool.
“Our relevant units are working very professionally,” Kalin said. “I cannot share any details but anything can happen anytime, anywhere.”
A nonprofit group aligned with Gulen said that Kalin’s remarks are a “blatant and alarming admission” that the Erdogan regime is in “clear violation” of international law.
“Rather than being ashamed of such operations, they are boasting about them,” Rabia Sirin, a spokesperson for the Alliance for Shared Values, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Any actual efforts should be met swiftly with the full force of the United States government.”
Emre Uslu, a former editor at Today’s Zaman, a now-defunct newspaper that was controlled by Gulen supporters, has become one of Erdogan’s main U.S.-based targets. He has been included on a list of Erdogan critics sought for return to Turkey and was tracked by Turkish media outlets near his home in Virginia.
Erodgan supporters have also openly discussed on Turkish television the idea of kidnapping Uslu from the U.S. and returning him to Turkey.
“Turkey is no longer a stable country that one would be able to predict what its leaders would do,” Uslu told TheDCNF. “There is a possibility that operatives who wanted to further deteriorate the U.S.-Turkey relations would attempt to carry operations in the U.S.”
Uslu says he is concerned that he will be one of the targets in any operations on American soil. But he raised an even more frightening specter than kidnapping.
Noting that an elaborate extradition scheme would be difficult in the U.S., Uslu pointed to the 2013 murder of three Kurdish activists in Paris. French authorities determined that MIT operatives were likely involved in the assassination.
Aydogan Vatandas, another journalist targeted by Erdogan, says that MIT is more than capable of running operations in America. But he says he believes that Kalin’s statements could be aimed at tamping down protests that Erdogan will inevitably face during his visit to the U.N. General Assembly.
“The Turkish Intelligence is capable of carrying out this kind of activities in the U.S. There is no doubt about this,” Vatandas, a former reporter at Today’s Zaman, told TheDCNF. But he said that he does not believe that the Turkish government would jeopardize its already-frayed relationship in the U.S. by carrying out illegal activities on U.S. soil.
“Mr. Kalin actually aims to frighten the opponents for potential demonstrations while Erdogan is in NY next week for U.N. Summit,” Vatandas added.
Erdogan has demonstrated other heavy-handed tactics to deal with such demonstrations.
The Turkish autocrat looked on calmly as more than a dozen of his bodyguards and supporters brutally beat a group of peaceful protesters outside of the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., on May 16, 2017. Erdogan defended the attacks, saying that the protesters posed a threat to him. But video of the incident showed that Erdogan’s entourage launched the attack against the protesters, many of who were women and elderly people.
The Turkish embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.