By Michael Hornsby, BerlinGerman authorities are investigating 20 individuals on suspicion of spying for Turkey in Germany, according to reports in Die Welt today. News of the investigations comes after revelations that Turkish authorities provided their German counterparts with dossiers of information about hundreds of suspected followers of Fethullah Gülen on at least two occasions: one at the Munich Security Conference in February, and another during a visit to Ankara by Emily Haber, State Secretary for the Interior, in early March.
The German investigations are apparently directed against Turkish secret service agents and imams connected to DITIB, an umbrella organization for more than 800 mosques and Islamic charities in Germany. Sevim Sağdalem, a minister for the Left Party, told Die Welt that many of the alleged spies may have already returned to Turkey due to “completely unacceptably lax action” by the German authorities.
In 2016, a record 342 visas were issued to DITIB clerics from Turkey, up from 240 in 2015 and 200 in 2014.
On Wednesday a spokesperson for the German Interior Ministry said that Turkey remains an important partner in the fight against terrorism. Intelligence sharing between the two NATO allies is normal practice. However, Germany has taken exception to surveillance of individuals and groups suspected by MIT, the Turkish intelligence agency, of having ties to Fethullah Gülen.
Turkey blames Gülen for last summer’s coup attempt, and has designated his movement a terrorist organization. Germany does not accept that followers of Gülen living in Germany are connected to the failed coup.
The two countries’ differing perspectives on the matter is one of several sources of tension between Ankara and Berlin, as the approximately 1.5 million Turkish citizens living in Germany vote at Turkish consulates and embassies in a referendum on adopting a constitutional presidency. Some German politicians have publicly called for voters to oppose the proposed changes, which would consolidate power in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Germany has reportedly received a surge in asylum requests from Turkish diplomats in recent months, as a crackdown on suspected coup plotters continues.