Turkey flies 2 suspected Gulenists back from Azerbaijan, Ukraine

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The Turkish intelligence agency has detained and flown back to Turkey from Azerbaijan and Ukraine two suspected members of the movement blamed for the 2016 failed coup, its latest covert overseas swoop, state media said Thursday.

The Anadolu news agency said the two men had been detained in Azerbaijan and Ukraine on suspicion of being top members of the group of U.S. based preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of orchestrating the coup bid aimed at unseating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Suspect Isa Ozdemir was detained in Azerbaijan and Salih Zeki Yigit in Ukraine in the operation by the National Intelligence Organisation, it said.

After their detention, the two suspects were flown on a special flight to Istanbul airport and accused of membership of a terror group.

Anadolu gave no further information on how the two men had been captured or if the operations had taken place with the cooperation of the Azerbaijani or Ukrainian authorities.

But it published a picture of the two men with their hands cuffed in front of their chests.

This not the first time that MIT has conducted operations abroad aimed at bringing suspected Gulenists back to Turkey.

In April, it flew three suspected Gulen group members back to Turkey from the African state of Gabon in a covert operation.

And in March, six Turkish nationals alleged to be Gulenists were flown back to Turkey from Kosovo in a hugely contentious operation carried out by the Pristina interior ministry and MIT.

The operation sparked a crisis in Kosovo, with both the prime minister and president protesting that they were not informed of the operation.

Erdogan has vowed to hunt down Gulenists inside and outside Turkey, saying in April: “We will never allow those vile people to walk freely.” A Turkish official said in April that 80 Gulenists had so far been brought back to Turkey in such operations.

Gulen’s group had built up huge influence in Turkey but also abroad — notably in Africa, the Balkans and Central Asia — in particular through an education network.

But the preacher, who has lived in the United States since 1999, denies any link to the failed coup bid.

Turkey has arrested tens of thousands of people since the coup bid on charges of belonging to the group, the biggest crackdown in its history.