Turkey arrests US Consulate General staff over terrorism links

ANKARA – Turkish authorities have arrested a US Consulate General staffer in the country’s largest city of Istanbul on charges of contacts with members of a movement led by US-based opposition cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom the Ankara government accuses of masterminding last July’s coup attempt.

The employee, identified with initials M.T., was remanded in custody by an Istanbul court late on Wednesday.

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported that the man worked as a contact officer at the Consulate General, and made contacts with former police chiefs Yakup Saygilı, Nazmi Ardiç, Mahir Çakallı and Mehmet Akif Üner, all linked to Gulen’s movement.

The report added that M.T. had phone calls with ex-prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, who is believed to be in Europe after he fled Turkey, on a regular basis. Öz faces life sentence for attempting to overthrow the government forcefully and forming a criminal organization.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Ankara said it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest of the consulate staffer, claiming that the charges against him were “baseless.”

“The United States government is deeply disturbed by the arrest of a locally-employed staff member. We believe these allegations to be wholly without merit,” the diplomatic mission said in a statement on Thursday.

The embassy also condemned leaks in the local press, which it said came “from Turkish government sources seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law.”