ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish police said on Tuesday they are seeking 144 people including police, soldiers and prosecutors, over suspected links to the network of a U.S.-based cleric blamed by Ankara for orchestrating last year’s failed coup.
In raids across 42 provinces, 35 of the 144 wanted people have already been detained, the police said in a statement, adding that the suspects were thought to be using ByLock, an encrypted messaging app the government says was used by preacher Fethullah Gulen’s followers.
Turkey accuses Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile for almost 20 years, of running a decades-long campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.
The investigation, launched by Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office, was targeting the Gulenist structure within the army, the police said, although the individuals also included academics and lawyers.
The cleric denies the charges.
Earlier, broadcaster CNN Turk reported that Turkish authorities issued arrest warrants for 33 people at the telecommunications watchdog and 36 people at the capital markets watchdog.
Since the aftermath of the failed July coup, authorities have arrested 50,000 people and sacked or suspended 150,000 from a wide range of professions including soldiers, police, teachers and public servants, over alleged links with terrorist groups.
As the arrests widened, criticism mounted, with opponents saying the crackdown had been used to crush all dissent against President Tayyip Erdogan.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by David Dolan and Dominic Evans)