By Ilker Girit
Turkey’s senior cleric on Friday hit back at “baseless allegations” against Turkish imams in Europe accused of spying.
Mehmet Gormez, the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet, said that such “unfounded statements, stories and allegations… will cause irreparable trauma on the innocent and religious masses.”
On Wednesday, German police searched the apartments of four Turkish imams as part of an investigation into claims they had been spying on Turkish nationals living in Germany, particularly those suspected of links to the Fetullah Terrorist Organization that Ankara has said orchestrated July’s coup attempt in Turkey.
In Austria, opposition lawmaker Peter Pilz has also accused Turkey of operating an informer network within the Turkish community.
In a statement, Gormez said the Diyanet had shared information with the German authorities and six clerics who “exceeded their authority” were returned to Turkey “as a gesture of goodwill despite never participating in any act of intelligence-gathering or espionage.”
He added: “The Directorate of Religious Affairs has always respected the legal norms applicable to religious legal entities with which it maintains contact.”
In Germany, clerics working for the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) are said to have spied on Turkish nationals.
Gormez said the DITIB had helped prevent the spread of religious extremism in Europe by standing apart from “radical structures, terrorist groups and circles that exploit religion” and criticized the “unreasonable and pointless” German investigation.
He stressed the Diyanet’s political impartiality and said it was “unacceptable” to target religious staff or organizations with “unfounded and baseless allegations”.
“These attempts have inflicted a moral and conscientious wound on not only over 3 million Turks who have made Germany their home but also on more than 5 million Muslims in the country,” he said.