ANKARA, Turkey – The African nation of Gabon has arrested and handed over three men wanted in Turkey for ties to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday, vowing to press ahead with efforts to chase the cleric's followers abroad.
The three Turkish nationals, who were directors of schools linked to Gulen in Gabon, were arrested by authorities in Gabon's capital, Libreville, on March 23, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
They were returned to Turkey in an operation led by the Turkish intelligence agency, Anadolu reported Tuesday, citing unnamed security sources.
"Gabon has handed over three important members of (Gulen's organization)," Erdogan said during a speech to his ruling party's lawmakers in Ankara. "They can run to wherever they want; they'll run, we'll chase."
Turkey accuses Gulen of masterminding the coup attempt in July 2016 and has branded his movement a "terror organization." The cleric has denied involvement in the failed attempt.
Since the coup, Turkey has arrested more than 38,000 people for alleged links to Gulen and fired some 110,000 public servants. Many of those arrested or fired have proclaimed their innocence.
Last week, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said as many as 80 suspected Gulen supporters in 18 countries were "bundled up and returned" to Turkey in operations conducted by the intelligence agency.
Last month, Turkey secretly arranged the deportation from Kosovo of six Turkish men — five teachers and a doctor — accused of supporting the coup attempt. The move angered Kosovo's prime minister, who fired the country's interior minister and intelligence chief for not telling him about it, and drew sharp criticism from human rights groups.
Anadolu said the three who were arrested in Gabon used an encrypted messaging app which the government says was used by Gulen's supporters to communicate secretly with each other. The three were wanted in Turkey for "membership in an armed terror organization," the agency said.