Ankara – Tensions between Ankara and Berlin continued to boil on Tuesday amid claims that Turkey is spying on followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen in Germany.
German prosecutors announced an investigation into these allegations as a German state minister accused Turkey of the “unacceptable” espionage against supporters of Gulen, blamed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a failed coup attempt last year.
“It is clear that the Turkish secret service MIT is investigating people living in Germany,” said Boris Pistorius, interior minister of the northern German state of Lower Saxony.
Erdogan’s government had asked Berlin to help spy on about 300 alleged Gulen supporters, Pistorius said, adding that the list was handed to Germany’s BND spy service, which turned it over to state governments.
But Pistorius’s state decided to inform the more than 10 targets in Lower Saxony, including a school and at least two companies, fearing people could suffer “retaliation” if they travelled to Turkey while unaware they were on a watch list.
Turkish authorities were acting with “something close to paranoia,” he said, adding that “all Gulen supporters are assumed to be terrorists and enemies of the state even though there is not the tiniest scrap of evidence.”
“As of today, we have no evidence whatsoever that Gulen supporters have violated any rules in any way.”
According to German media, Turkish officials handed the target list including names, addresses, telephone numbers and photographs to their German counterparts during the Munich Security Conference in February.
Federal prosecutors will now examine how Turkey compiled such detailed information on their targets.
“The success of our investigation will depend largely on the information shared with us by German counter-espionage agencies,” spokeswoman Frauke Koehler said about the probe into “persons unknown”.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere meanwhile warned Turkey against spying in Germany, saying “espionage activities on German soil is punishable by law and will not be tolerated by us”.
The claims open a new front in the diplomatic row between NATO allies Germany and Turkey, whose relationship has been strained by a series of disputes centered on human rights issues.
Although Gulen, a 75-year-old cleric living the United States, has denied charges that he was involved in the failed coup last July to overthrow Erdogan.
In February, German police raided the homes of four Turkish Muslim preachers suspected of spying on alleged Gulen supporters for Erdogan’s government.
Erdogan has in turn accused Germany of harboring Kurdish and other “terrorists”, claiming that Berlin is refusing to hand over alleged suspects.
Germany’s foreign intelligence chief Bruno Kahl drew Ankara’s ire last week when he said he did not believe that Gulen was behind the failed coup.
Ankara has been riled by German authorities’ refusal to allow some Turkish ministers to campaign in the country’s Turkish communities for a “yes” vote ahead of the April 16 referendum on giving Erdogan the powers of an executive presidency.