ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey on Wednesday arrested four prosecutors and a gendarme officer for trying to carry out a search of Syria-bound trucks belonging to the state intelligence agency that they suspected of illegally carrying arms for rebels fighting Syria’s government.
Local media said the arrests were part of a crackdown by President Tayyip Erdogan on followers, within the judiciary and police, of a U.S.-based Islamic cleric he accuses of trying to oust him. Seventeen army officers were held last month in the same case.
Police and the prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment.
The MIT intelligence agency, regarded as strongly loyal to Erdogan, refused to allow the search of the trucks stopped in the southern province of Adana last year. After a standoff, the vehicles, which Ankara said carried humanitarian aid, moved on.
Erdogan is one of the most outspoken leaders in his hostility to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who said Turkish support was a key factor helping militant Islamist insurgents seize the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib earlier this year.
Turkey denies that allegation and any suggestion it has delivered arms to Islamist militants.
Private broadcaster CNN Turk said the five were charged with attempting to “topple or incapacitate” the government through use of force or obtaining and exposing information regarding the security and political activities of the state.
President Erdogan has described the “Hizmet” (Service) movement of former rival and cleric Fethullah Gulen as a terrorist organisation bent on discrediting him and seizing power. He accused Gulen followers of engineering a corruption scandal in 2013 implicating figures in his circle.
The investigation has been dropped and the judiciary purged of suspected Gulen allies. Gulen denies the accusations.
Last year, Turkey’s government boosted the powers of the national intelligence agency, in a move seen by Erdogan’s critics as a bid to tighten his grip on the apparatus of state.
Writing by Ece Toksabay; editing by David Dolan and Ralph Boulton