May 13, 2015 / 8:29 AM / 3 years ago

Turkey probes alleged links in army with U.S.-based cleric, defense minister says

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish military prosecutor has opened an investigation into allegations that a U.S.-based Islamic preacher has sympathizers within the armed forces, Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz told the state-run Anadolu news agency on Wednesday.

Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania September 26, 2013. REUTERS/Selahattin Sevi/Zaman Daily via Cihan News Agency

It is the latest move against a religious movement headed by cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers have been pushed out of key posts in the judiciary and police force amid a long-running feud with President Tayyip Erdogan, once Gulen’s close ally.

Erdogan accuses Gulen’s Hizmet (Service) movement of seeking to establish a “parallel state” and of orchestrating a corruption investigation that targeted the Turkish leader and his inner circle in late 2013 in a coup attempt.

“We have gotten tip-offs about more than 1,000 people (in the armed forces). In connection with this, both an administrative investigation and an investigation by the General Staff’s military prosecutor have begun,” Yilmaz was quoted as saying by Anadolu on its website.

Yilmaz did not say from where the tip-offs had originated.

Belonging to Hizmet is not a crime in Turkey, but journalists at affiliated newspapers and televisions stations have been detained and accused of “terrorism”.

Police officers, prosecutors and judges, believed to be Gulen’s followers, have been re-assigned or fired since the corruption case against Erdogan, family members and cabinet ministers emerged. Those charges have all been dismissed.

Hizmet runs a network of schools in Turkey and across the world. Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, has previously denied the government’s charges.

OFFICERS RETURN TO WORK

Yilmaz also announced that 73 military officers, whose convictions of plotting Erdogan’s overthrow were overturned, had returned to their posts.

Those trials, beginning in 2007, were key in reducing the political influence of the army, which once wielded considerable power over elected officials.

The military, which long considered itself the guardian of Turkey’s secular constitution, forced out the first Islamist-led government in 1997, having staged three outright coups in the second half of the 20th century.

No one was immediately available at the military General Staff to comment. A spokeswoman at the Defence Ministry said it had no statement on Yilmaz’s comments.

Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Raissa Kasolowsky

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