Turkey Claims to Have ‘Captured’ Cleric’s Relative in Kenya

The removal of a Turkish citizen from his home in Kenya is part of the crackdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on those he sees as connected to a failed 2016 coup.,

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s intelligence service claims it has “captured” a Turkish citizen related to a cleric they say orchestrated a failed coup, and taken him from his home in Kenya to Turkey, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported Monday.

The man, Selahaddin Gulen, is reported to be the nephew of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher based in the United States who is accused of organizing a coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.

Mr. Erdogan faced down the coup attempt and cracked down hard in the aftermath, imposing a state of emergency for two years, detaining 100,000 people and purging 150,000 public employees from their jobs.

More than 8,000 military personnel were prosecuted for their part in the insurrection.

Abroad, the crackdown has involved the forced renditions of 80 or more Gulen supporters and the closing of dozens of schools run by his movement. Turkey has requested the extradition of Fethullah Gulen from the United States, but Washington has done little to meet that demand. American officials have said the evidence presented by Ankara is insufficient to stand up in court.

The failure to extradite Mr. Gulen is one of several complaints expressed by Mr. Erdogan in his worsening relationship with the United States.

Teachers and administrators of some of the movement’s schools have been extradited or deported with the cooperation of some countries, including Kosovo, Bulgaria and Malaysia.

The Turkish government accused six Turkish citizens who were deported from Kosovo in March 2018 of having connections to Mr. Gulen, whose Islamic movement has garnered support in the Balkans, among other places.

Kosovo’s prime minister at the time, Ramush Haradinaj, said that he had not authorized the deportations, and he fired his interior minister and secret service chief on the grounds that they had known about the operation and failed to inform him in advance.

Soon after, Bekir Bozdag, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, boasted that Turkish secret agents in 18 countries had seized 80 Turks suspected of having links to the Gulen movement. But later that year Turkey was also prevented from transporting a Turkish educator from Mongolia.

Turkish officials pressured countries including Kenya to close Gulen-backed private schools, which are in major cities including Nairobi and Mombasa. While the Kenyan government didn’t do so, the pressure was indicative of Mr. Erdogan’s influence and how far he would go to break up the Gulen movement.

ImageFethullah Gulen at his headquarters in Saylorsburg, Pa., the day after a failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016.
Fethullah Gulen at his headquarters in Saylorsburg, Pa., the day after a failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016.Credit…Charles Mostoller for The New York Times

Relations between Kenya and Turkey have strengthened in the past decade, with the two countries signing agreements in security and technical cooperation. In 2020, trade volume between the two countries grew to $251 million, according to the Turkish foreign ministry.

Selahaddin Gulen was living in Kenya and was fighting a legal battle to avoid deportation by the Kenyan government.

A Turkish citizen and a permanent resident of the United States, he arrived in Kenya on a tourist visa on Oct. 17, according to a court affidavit seen by The New York Times. After he was allowed into the country, immigration officials arrested him based on a “red notice” alert issued by Interpol for “an alleged child molestation case,” the affidavit said. Mr. Gulen, according to the affidavit, said he was acquitted of the charges in 2008.

Mr. Gulen told the Kenyan court that Turkish authorities were “keen on subjecting me to political persecution as they have done to my sister, my brother and 62 other members of my extended family.”

In his affidavit, he called Interpol’s red notices “the new device or instrument that the Turkish authorities now have resorted to using in their efforts to seize and extradite to Turkey all persons related to Fethullah Gulen (who reside outside Turkey) for purposes of being imprisoned.”

Interpol has come under widespread criticism for allowing autocrats and strongmen to abuse its alert system to serve their political ends.

Two days after Mr. Gulen arrived in Kenya, on Oct. 19, he was arraigned in court and released on bail pending the extradition proceedings against him. In early May, days before his case came up for hearing, he disappeared while on his way to the headquarters of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, his lawyer, Jotham Okome Arwa, said.

“It was a requirement of his bail that he should appear every Monday to confirm that he was still within jurisdiction,” Mr. Arwa said in an interview.

The court has directed Kenyan officials to explain the whereabouts of Mr. Gulen, which they haven’t done, Mr. Arwa said. It was unclear what role Kenya played, if any, in the capture of Mr. Gulen. Kenya’s ministry of interior did not respond to questions about Mr. Gulen’s case.

It was not the first time that Turkish security agencies have detained someone in Kenya. In 1999, Turkish intelligence, with the help of American and Kenyan security officers, captured the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan and took him back to Turkey.

In a video shared online, Mr. Gulen’s wife, Seriyye Gulen, said she had been living in Kenya since last November and that she last saw her husband on May 3. She said she believed he was “kidnapped and taken to Turkey on May 5.”

Citing security sources, the Anadolu news agency said that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, MIT, captured Mr. Gulen abroad and brought him to Turkey. The report said Mr. Gulen was related to people in the FETO movement. FETO is an acronym for the Gulen movement used by the Turkish government.

The news agency provided no further details, although Mr. Erdogan had said on May 19 that Turkey had captured a senior member of the Gulen movement.

“Soon we will announce an important name from the FETO team too,” Mr. Erdogan said, speaking to youngsters in Turkey’s National Youth and Sports Day. “He is in our hands right now.”

Carlotta Gall reported from Istanbul and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya.

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