Turkey’s intelligence agency has quietly “bundled up and brought back” at least 80 Turkish citizens in covert operations across 18 countries, according to one senior Turkish official. The secretive and ongoing operation is part of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's widening purge of civil servants, opposition leaders, activists, and journalists, following a failed coup in July 2016.On Tuesday Erdoğan boasted of the so-called forced repatriations, telling fellow lawmakers that Gabon had recently returned three Turkish citizens with suspected links to U.S.-based opposition leader Fethullah Gulen. Ankara believes Gulen is the architect of the failed coup in 2016, and has repeatedly sought his extradition from the U.S. to no avail.
“No matter where they run or how much they run, we will go after them,” Erdogan told lawmakers in Ankara, according to Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu Agency..The latest round of secretive abductions follows a little-covered interview with Turkish news outlet Haberturk last week, in which Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said Ankara’s spy agency “bundled up and brought back” 80 suspects against their will, as part of their global response to so-called threats to Turkey’s security from Gullen’s supporters.The Turkish official did not name the other countries from which the spy agency, known as the National Intelligence Organization, abducted these 80 Turkish citizens.But it’s not the first time Turkey’s purge has caused controversy outside its borders: Six Turkish nationals were abducted in Kosovo on March 29 and deported back to Turkey in an operation Bozdağ called “a great success.”The abductions set off a firestorm of outrage in Kosovo, with the country’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj firing his top security officials for not informing him of the arrests. Kosovo’s parliament also voted to launch an investigation into the incident and the potential human rights violations its officials committed.The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein slammed Turkey last month for its “staggering” number of arrests, which he said has claimed nearly 160,000 in an 18-month period.Cover image: April 3, 2018. Russian President Vladimir and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, left, attend the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the first power generating unit at the Akkuyu nuclear power plant being built by Rosatom in Turkey, via a video link at the presidential palace in Ankara. Michael Klimentyev / Sputnik via AP