By Bruno Waterfield
BRUSSELS (Times of London) — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey planned to purge opposition forces in the military before July’s attempted coup, according to a secret EU intelligence report. The European intelligence contradicts the Turkish government’s claim that Fethullah Gülen, an exiled cleric, was behind the plot to overthrow the Turkish government. Ankara is seeking Gülen’s extradition from the US.
The report by Intcen, the EU intelligence center, concluded that the coup was mounted by a range of opponents to Erdogan and his ruling AK Party.
“The decision to launch the coup resulted from the fears of an incoming purge. It is likely that a group of officers comprising Gülenists, Kemalists [secularists], opponents of the AKP and opportunists was behind the coup. It is unlikely that Gülen himself played a role in the attempt,” said the report, dated August, 24, 2016, seen by The Times.
“The coup was just a catalyst for the crackdown prepared in advance.”
Gülen’s followers have spent decades placing their supporters in senior positions in the police, judiciary and other institutions building a network that, according to EU intelligence sources, enabled him to “influence the situation in the country and control the activities of President Erdogan”.
That situation, however, “changed” after Erdogan began purges of the police and state administration in 2014, weakening the Gülenists as well as targeting other opposition tendencies such as Kemalists and civil activists.
In a blow to Turkey’s claims that Gülen masterminded the coup, the European intelligence report noted that his Islamist followers were weak in the Turkish army, which until last July remained a bastion of secularism.
“It is unlikely Gülen really had the abilities and capacities to take such steps. There is no evidence that the army, [which] considers itself as the guardian of Turkey as a secular state, and the Gülenists were willing to co-operate with each other to oust Erdogan. The Gülen movement is very disconnected and somewhat distant from the secular opposition and Turkish army,” the report said.
According to EU intelligence agencies, the military coup began after reports of a “far-reaching purge” began to circulate in the days running up to the attempted seizure of power of July 15. The expected purge drew in secular opponents of Erdogan and galvanized sections of the military opposed to Erdogan’s policies of intervention in Syria and against the Kurds.
During the peace process from 2013 to 2015 with Kurdish guerrillas, the military was ordered to turn a blind eye to the Kurdish separatist PKK building up weapons stocks which were then used against the army when the conflict resumed. Senior military figures were opposed to Mr Erdogan’s demands for a ground operation in Syria, which began in August only after they were purged.
“The Gülenist group of officers in the armed forces was under pressure to carry out the coup due to the upcoming purge,” noted the report.
“The coup was also supported by surviving Kemalist-secularists and some army segments unhappy with the government’s policies, in particular regarding PKK and the Syrian crisis.
“Erdogan exploited the failed coup and the state of emergency to launch an extensive repressive campaign against the opponents of the AKP establishment,” said the report, dated five months ago. “The huge wave of arrests was already previously prepared.”