Berlin– German police raided in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate on Wednesday the apartments of four imams suspected of spying for the Turkish government.
The four imams are accused of spying on followers of cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of organizing last year’s failed coup.
Federal Prosecutor’s Office (GBA) spokeswoman announced that the raids were carried out to collect evidence and no arrests were made.
News site Spiegel online reported the imams belong to Ditib, an organization controlled by Ankara that manages some 900 mosques or religious communities in Germany.
Ditib is a Turkish government agency founded in 1984 to fund mosques for Germany’s Turkish community. An estimated 4 million Turks live in the country.
The spokeswoman added that the imams had acted on an order issued on Sept. 20 last year by the Turkey-based Presidency of Religious Affairs Diyanet – DİB.
“They are suspected of having collected information about members of the so-called Gulen movement and passed it on to the general consulate in Cologne,” she added.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said he expects Ditib to promptly and completely explain the allegations.
“Whoever uses Islam as a cover for espionage cannot rely [for protection] on the freedom of religion,” he said.
“If the suspicion that some Ditib imams were spying is confirmed, the organization must be seen, at least in part, as a long arm of the Turkish government,” the minister added.
The raids come after the federal prosecutor launched a probe last month following growing complaints of harassment in Turkish mosques.
Germany’s integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz announced that with such events, Ankara was “deepening divisions” among Turks living in Germany.
Earlier this week, the Austrian Interior Ministry announced an investigation into concerns raised by Greens Parliamentarian Peter Pilz that Turkish diplomatic offices around the world were gathering information to try to undermine organizations loyal to Gulen.
According to Pilz, ATIB, the Austrian equivalent to DITIB, was sending reports on Gulen-backed organizations, with the information then forwarded to Ankara.
Pilz claimed he had information that confirms a “global spying network,” saying his team was working on publishing similar documents from 30 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia.
Following the failed coup in July, Erdogan’s government has cracked down hard on followers of Gulen with more than 41,000 people arrested and 100,000 fired or suspended.
The government says the measures it took are necessary to clean the state of the “virus” of Gulen’s movement, which encourages its members to work in public services.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has repeatedly criticized the scale of the crackdown and urged Erdogan to safeguard civil liberties.