ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – An American consulate employee in Istanbul was arrested for alleged links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who is blamed for last year’s military coup attempt, Turkish media said on Thursday.
Authorities arrested the man, identified only by the initials M.T., late Wednesday on charges of “espionage and attempts to damage the constitutional order and Turkey’s government,” Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported.
The move was condemned by the US embassy in Ankara who said it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest of the local employee, dismissing the allegations as “wholly without merit.”
“It appears that leaked information from Turkish government sources was aimed at trying him in the media rather than a court of law,” the embassy said, according to Reuters.
“Baseless, anonymous allegations against our employees undermine and devalue [the] longstanding partnership” between the US and Turkey, the embassy said in a statement.
Tensions between the two NATO allies have increased in recent months over Washington’s support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) battling the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a view the US does not share.
Ankara has also pressured the US to extradite Gulen, so far without success, who is blamed for masterminding the failed July 2016 coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
This is not the first time Turkey has arrested a US consulate employee.
In February, Turkish police detained the consulate’s translator Hamza Ulucay, a Turkish citizen, over alleged membership to the PKK and Gulen.
Since the coup attempt, over 50,000 people have been jailed in Turkey over links to Gulen, while 150,000 people have been fired or suspended from jobs in the public and private sectors.
Editing by Ava Homa